A recent decision of the Court of Appeal provides guidance on regulations 4 and 6 Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 and emphasises that the duty on employers is a high one. The case highlights the importance of undertaking a thorough and comprehensive risk assessment before deciding on the suitability of personal protective equipment.
In Threlfall v Hull City Council  EWCA Civ 1147, T was employed as a street scene operative with responsibility for tidying the gardens of unoccupied council houses and cut his hand badly on something in a bag of rubbish. T was wearing standard issue cloth and suede gloves provided by his employer and argued that the council should have provided him with better quality gloves. The judge in the county court held that the council did not have a duty to provide highly protective gloves as the risk of injury was very low. Risk assessments had been carried out. Regulation 6 Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 requires an employer to undertake a risk assessment "to determine whether the personal protective equipment he intends will be provided is suitable." T appealed on the basis that the risk assessment conducted by the council was inadequate. The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal with Lady Justice Smith stating that "...effectiveness is at the heart of suitability."
This local authority case is relevant in the healthcare context of the sharps policies and procedures in place in hospitals. By 11 May 2013, the UK must have in place provisions to implement the new European Directive on sharps injuries as adopted by the EU Council in May 2010. This directive implements a framework agreement, developed by EU social partners in healthcare, which has the aim of eliminating the risk of sharp injuries. The framework is centred on risk assessment, safe procedures, training and information and reporting incidents. In future, employers in both public and private healthcare sectors will have to ensure that the protective equipment they provide and the risk assessments used to determine suitability are in line with the regulations and the soon to be implemented European Directive.