A recent decision of the Court of Appeal provides guidance on regulations 4 and 6 of the 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 (2010), T was employed as a street scene operative and sustained a serious laceration injury to his hand when handling a bag of garden 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. T appealed against a decision of a county court judge who had rejected his claim on the basis that, while there was a foreseeable risk that sharp objects might be encountered during garden and rubbish clearance, the risk of injury was very low and consequently the council did not have a duty to provide highly protective gloves.

On appeal, the Court of Appeal found that the risk assessment undertaken by the council had been inadequate. It had only dealt with general risks and had failed to consider the specific risk of laceration. As this risk could not be controlled by other means the council were under a duty to provide equipment suitable to provide protection against such risk. The gloves the council had provided were ineffective as they were suitable for protecting only against minimal risks. Accordingly the claimant's appeal was allowed.