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A Guide to Personal Protective Equipment and Workwear




There is a raft of regulations governing health and safety in UK workplaces. It is the responsibility of every employer to be aware of the regulations and to comply with them. The regulations come under the umbrella act which is The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 although you may see it written as HSWA.


The act places a duty on employers to “ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees”.


If, as an employer, you fail in this duty, you face enforcement action by the Health and Safety Executive or a local authority. There are numerous regulations made under the parent act and the regulations governing personal protective equipment are the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992.

The role of Personal Protective Equipment in Health and Safety

The role of personal protective equipment (PPE) in health and safety is frequently misunderstood. The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 is very clear, however, about what an employer’s duties are. PPE is regarded as a last resort. You are required to assess the hazards presented to your employees through a thorough risk assessment and then implement controls to minimise the risks of those hazards.


Engineering controls and safe systems of work should be considered before PPE. This could be through the use of alternative equipment or by adopting a different way of working. Where this is not possible, PPE is required.



What do the regulations require?

Regulation 4 governs the provision of personal protective equipment and states that:


“Every employer shall ensure that suitable personal protective equipment is provided to his employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health or safety while at work”


Furthermore, Regulation 2(1) provides a clear definition of PPE 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 him against one or more risks to his health or safety, and any addition or accessory designed to meet that objective.”

General PPE Requirements

All items of PPE that you provide need to meet the relevant legal standards and must be “CE” marked which means it meets European Union standards. Some European standards have been superseded by International Standards (prefixed ISO) and if adopted in the UK will be prefixed BS. There are specific guidance notes from the HSE for each item of PPE.


Simply providing PPE is not enough. It must be stored appropriately and regularly checked to ensure that it is working correctly. Worn or damaged equipment must be immediately replaced. It must fit the employee who is required to use it, so a range of sizes to accommodate different employees will be required.




Some PPE will need to be personalised for each employee. Face and eye protection is a typical example and will need to accommodate an employee’s prescription glasses. Badly fitting PPE cannot perform its function adequately and is distracting.


Various items of PPE need to be able to work together so head protection must fit with eye protection. Sometimes, helmets with built-in eye or ear protection are the most appropriate option.

Specific Requirements for Arborists, Tree Surgeons and Forestry Workers


The HSE provides specific advice for each work task carried out by arborists, tree surgeons and forestry workers, such as guidance on aerial work. As an illustration, chainsaw users involved in aerial tree work would require:


  • A safety helmet, a 4-point chin strap mountaineering style helmet complying with BS EN 12492 primarily to protect from falling objects. Must be compatible with chosen eye and hearing protection.

  • Eye protection. This must comply with either BS EN 1731 or BS EN 166) to protect from flying debris, dust or other particles. Must be compatible with other PPE.

  • Hearing protection to protect hearing from exposure to the noise of power tools complying with BS EN 352. Must be compatible with other PPE.

  • Chainsaw boots to help protect the feet from chainsaw injury. Must have steel toecaps and be chainsaw protective complying with EN ISO 17249

  • Leg and groin protection to help protect against chainsaw injury and debris. Complying with BS EN 381-5 and type selected after careful risk assessment.

  • Gloves to protect from sharp objects, machinery and cold.

  • Appropriate clothing (for example non-snag and high visibility)


Employees must know how to use the PPE and must understand the importance of using it. This requires both initial and ongoing training. When a new work task or a new item of PPE is introduced, new training is required.


As the employer, you bear the cost of the PPE, not your employees, and ultimately it is your job to make sure you are compliant with all the regulations for outdoor work.




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