Is the adequacy of personal protective equipment in decline?

  • Market Insight 28 June 2024 28 June 2024
  • UK & Europe

  • Casualty claims

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is a key consideration for organisations and individuals across various industries. PPE exists to keep workers safe, and employers have legal duties in relation to this.

There have been a number of recent studies carried out into the use of PPE, with the results highlighting weaknesses in current PPE provisions. It poses the question, is the adequacy of PPE in decline?

There are two key components in considering this:

  1. Is the PPE adequate to control the risks it is designed to?
  2. Is it fit for purpose for the user?

This article addresses these points, in addition to considering what PPE is; an employer’s legal duties; and considerations for employers when assessing and selecting PPE to ensure they are fulfilling their duties.

What is PPE?

  • PPE is defined in the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 as:
  • all equipment (including clothing affording protection against the weather)
  • which is intended to be worn or held by a person at work and
  • which protects the person against one or more risks to that person’s health or safety
  • and any addition or accessory designed to meet that objective

PPE is a key component in ensuring workers’ health and safety. It is worn on construction sites or in factories or warehouses (as well as other workplaces). Examples of commonly supplied and used PPE are hard hats, safety footwear, safety glasses, gloves and high-visibility clothing.

Employer’s duties

Under the Personal Protective Equipment at Work (Amendment) Regulations 2022, employers must ensure that suitable PPE is provided to workers who may be exposed to a risk to their health and safety while at work.

PPE is only deemed suitable where it is appropriate for the risks involved, it takes account of ergonomic requirements and health of the worker wearing it, including fitting them correctly and it is effective in preventing or controlling the risk as far as is practicable.

The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) guidance on PPE sets out that PPE provided must be compatible, maintained and correctly stored.

Is PPE controlling the risks it is designed to?

An investigation carried out by the British Safety Industry Federation on non-member companies found that only 21% of tested products were fully compliant.

One product tested was a flame retardant parka bought from an online retailer. When tested, the outer layer burnt through, exposing the inner layer, which then caught fire. Eventually the entire coat was engulfed in flames.

Testing on a respiratory protective mask from a PPE distributor, performed at half of the required level. Both products had missing documentation.

These findings are very concerning for employers who may be providing this PPE to their workers, and for workers who will not be adequately protected from risks as intended and expected.

Is it fit for purpose for the user?

A report published by the National Association of Women in Construction – Yorkshire Region details that most employers do not provide specific women’s PPE. 60% of women requiring PPE had no choice but to wear PPE designed for men. 40% of women report that ill-fitting PPE has negatively impacted their career. There are often physical differences between men and women. Therefore, what may be designed to fit a male to protect their health and safety, may not fit a female to the same standard.

The Chartered Institute of Building launched the “#PPEthatfits” initiative in 2023, aiming to raise awareness of, and to tackle, the unequal distribution of suitable PPE within the construction sector. It intends to examine the effects unsuitable PPE has on health and safety at construction sites and the impact this has on attracting and retaining a diverse workforce.

Employers should be mindful that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to PPE is unlikely to result in the most appropriate PPE to meet the needs of a diverse workforce.


When evaluating existing PPE and making decisions in relation to new PPE, employers should consider the following factors as set out by the HSE:

  • Is it suitable for the conditions of the job?
  • Does it offer the right level of protection?
  • What sort of training or maintenance is required?
  • How do I know when it needs replacing?
  • Does it fit correctly?
  • How does the wearer feel? Is it comfortable?
  • Are all items of the PPE compatible?
  • Does PPE interfere with the job being done?
  • Does PPE introduce another health risk?
  • If PPE needs maintenance or cleaning, how is it done?

A potential issue for employers is accessibility to appropriate, certified, and compliant  PPE, both in terms of supply and cost.

The requirements of what makes PPE compliant is set out within Regulation 2016/425 and the Personal Protective Equipment (Enforcement) Regulations. It is vital for manufacturers and suppliers to be producing and selling compliant PPE.

Certified PPE has CE marking provisions on it, which is a key indicator for buyers. There are multiple CE marking categories which employers should familiarise themselves with. Employers should ensure they are carrying out due diligence to source compliant manufacturers and suppliers, and that the PPE they are buying is certified. This will help ensure employers are fulfilling their legal duties when providing PPE to workers.

The British Safety Industry Federation has created a ‘Registered Safety Supplier Scheme’. Where companies display the scheme’s logo, it certifies that the equipment fully complies with PPE regulations. More can be found out about this here: Registered Safety Supplier | BSIF.

With growing diverse workforces across industries, manufacturers and suppliers should be mindful of whether they are meeting customers’ needs in terms of products and pricing of them. The statistics show a clear need for more PPE for women, whether this is in manufacturing, employers buying and supplying it, or both.

Employers should consider reviewing and evaluating their current PPE provisions, to ensure they are fulfilling their legal duties, but also in connection with their workers’ satisfaction rates.


Additional authors:

Charlotte Cossey, Junior Associate

Stay up to date with Clyde & Co

Sign up to receive email updates straight to your inbox!