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COURT OF APPEAL ON PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT

Effectiveness at preventing or controlling risk is central to glove suitability 

The Court of Appeal (Civil) has recently considered the application of the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 1992 in the case of Threlfall v Hull City Council.

Background

On 8 May 2006, Mr Threlfall was working as a Council street cleaner clearing rubbish and debris from the garden of a council property. Whilst handling a black plastic bag of rubbish he sustained a serious cut to his left hand.

He was wearing gloves, which were described by the manufacturer as being of a simple design for minimal risks only. He alleged that the gloves were not suitable. His claim failed at the first hearing as did his first appeal.

Decision by Court of Appeal

Mr Threlfall’s appeal to the Court of Appeal was successful.

The court held that although he could not show exactly how the accident had occurred, it was sufficient for him to show that his hand had been cut whilst he was doing his job and wearing the gloves provided.

Regulations 4 and 6 of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulations 1992 should be considered together.

Regulation 4 sets out the requirement to provide PPE and includes guidance as to what will be considered suitable. At the heart of suitability is effectiveness at preventing or adequately controlling the risk of injury.

Regulation 6 requires the employer to carry out a risk assessment to determine whether the proposed PPE is suitable.

The risk assessment carried out by the Council was manifestly defective and should have specifically dealt with the risk of laceration and the type of protective gloves required in the light of that risk. The standard issue gloves were plainly not effective to prevent or adequately control the risk of laceration as it should have been assessed.

Comment

The duty to provide suitable PPE when a risk cannot be controlled is absolute. (Lane Group Plc v Farmilloe [2003])

Whilst the Court of Appeal accepted that, if the Council had provided suitable gloves, the lack of a risk assessment would have been irrelevant, a sensible risk assessment will usually be the starting point.

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