Court gives up to date guidance on PPE
Hull City Council has recently found itself embroiled in aclaim for damages from one of their employees who was working onmaintenance of the gardens of unoccupied Council houses. It wasnecessary to remove rubbish and debris and the workers wereprovided with litter pickers, rakes and shovels. It became clearthat former tenants or others had deposited black plastic bags ofrubbish in the garden and these had to be manually handled. It waswhilst handling one of these bags that the Claimant sustained aninjury to his left hand. The precise means of injury was unclearbut eventually the judge accepted that the injury had been causedwhen the Claimant had grabbed something with a degree of forcewhich was sufficient for some sharp object to have penetrated hisglove and to have severed an artery and tendon in his left littlefinger.
The case had two hearings when the Claimant was unsuccessfulbut those two earlier decisions were reversed by the Court ofAppeal in a judgment which is of significance. As can beappreciated, the key Regulations being considered were the PersonalProtective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992. Those Regulationsrequire every employer to ensure that suitable personal protectiveequipment is provided to employees who may be exposed to a risk totheir health and safety at work. The Regulations specificallyoutline that personal protective equipment is not suitable unlessit is appropriate for the risks involved and the conditions wherethe risk may occur. The Regulations require an employer to make anassessment to determine whether the personal protective equipmentintended to be provided is, in fact, suitable.
The Council defended the case on the basis that the risk ofinjury to their employee was very low in the context of trainingand equipment provided, contending in particular that the glovessupplied were adequate for the work being carried out. However, theCourt of Appeal decided that the Council`s risk assessment was toogeneral as it did not take into account specific risks from sharpobjects that were hidden. This is where the court made importantobservations.
They indicated that effectiveness was at the heart of thequestion as to what equipment was suitable. The first question,therefore, is whether the proposed item of protective equipmentprevented or adequately controlled the identified risk. If theanswer is no, the equipment is unsuitable no matter how appropriateit might be. The object is to ensure that when an adverse eventoccurs, that the protective equipment either prevents any injury atall or protects the worker in a way that he does not suffersignificant injury. The Court concluded that the standard issuegloves were not effective to prevent or adequately control the riskof injury. The Court therefore allowed the appeal and the Claimantwas successful.
Two things can be taken from this case, one directly and theother more indirectly. Firstly, the true test now is one ofeffectiveness, which might well impact on a choice of what is trulyprotective equipment. The indirect result is that all manufacturersand suppliers have a general duty to sell products which are safe.After this judgment there is arguably more chance of them gettingit wrong and being vulnerable to claims from others involved in anincident such as this.
This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.