Personal protective equipment and the coronavirus outbreak

On almost a daily basis, much of the coronavirus related news focuses on the lack of suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) available to NHS staff and other carers.

Whilst there are clearly issues with the supply of such equipment, employers in other sectors as well as the NHS and care organisations should be aware of their responsibilities regarding the provision and use of PPE at work. The lack of supply will not exempt an employer from its responsibilities and liability to its employees for a failure to provide reasonable and sufficient PPE whilst still requiring its employees to work in an environment exposing its employees to greater risk of harm and injury and potentially death.

The Health and Safety Executive sets out concise details of duties owed to employees on their website www.hse.gov.uk.

PPE is described as “equipment that will protect the user against health or safety risks at work. It can include items such as safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear and safety harnesses. It also includes respiratory protective equipment (RPE).”
Such PPE should be readily available and free of charge to the employee.
In the context of the current coronavirus pandemic, PPE could reasonably include not only full scale PPE for NHS workers and carers (such as full body suits, gloves, masks and visors) but also masks, gloves and protective screens for supermarket, shop and office workers and adequate instructions as to their use as well as instructions as to social distancing.

At Stone Rowe Brewer LLP, we are regularly instructed by employees who have been injured as a result of a lack of suitable PPE. Due to our considerable experience, we have a track record of securing high settlements and awards for those clients who have been injured whilst at work.

In recent years, we have acted for clients who have suffered serious injury whilst on construction sites and in factories due to a lack of suitable PPE such as safety helmets and eye protection. However, this pandemic raises the issue of far reaching PPE claims in relation to full body protection, masks, gloves and protective screens including a whole range of professions, industries and retail outlets and affecting potentially millions of UK workers. It will be highly relevant to all workers at the point when they are asked to return to work when one would expect that adequate risk assessments are also carried out by their employers to ensure their safety on their return to work whether that is a return to work on a full or graduated basis.

If you have suffered any injury, illness or other harm due to a lack of PPE or lack of appropriate instructions provided by your employer, please contact Michael Latner (m.latner@srb.co.uk) or Suzanna Reed (s.reed@srb.co.uk) on 020 8891 6141 for a free consultation.

Michael Latner