This decision is another in a series of reminders to employers that they should be alert to the obligations placed on them by the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992.
It will always be sensible for employers to prepare a risk assessment, which should identify all potential risks, and what equipment is necessary to prevent or adequately control these risks. In this case, whilst a risk assessment was prepared, this focused on the removal of the cannabis plants. Whilst the latex gloves may have been sufficient for removing the plants, they were not strong enough to protect her from other potential risks involved in the work.
In September 2008 police officers discovered a cannabis factory in a house in Southsea. A number of officers, including the Claimant, were charged with dismantling the factory. Before this was done, PS Humphreys carried out a risk assessment. He considered that the only material risk was from skin being irritated from being in contact with the plants. Accordingly, the officers wore latex gloves.
The house was hot and the Claimant decided to open a window. She did not notice that it had been sealed. She pushed at the window, causing the glass to break, and sustained a cut to her right thumb.
At first instance Mr Recorder Blunt QC held that the Defendant was liable for failing to provide the Claimant with thick gloves to protect against sharp edges.
Lord Justice Elias dismissed the Defendant’s appeal:
- Regulation 4(1) provides that “Every employer shall ensure that suitable personal protective equipment is provided to his employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health or safety while at work...”
- The Regulations were engaged in this case. There was a low, but not de minimis, level of risk in the cannabis factory generally.
- The duty to provide thick gloves was also engaged at the time of the accident. At any time the Claimant might have been required to do work other than actually removing the plants, including pulling down lengths of ventilation ducting, and this could have involved contact with sharp edges.
- Once an employer is shown to be in breach of the duty to provide equipment, the assumption is that it would have been used, unless the employer proves otherwise.
- No arguments based on remoteness of damage had been pursued. In addition, it had not been suggested that the risk involved in opening the window was not the kind of risk against which the Regulations were designed to give protection.