A recent Trades Union Congress survey reveals that despite laws which say employers must give their staff personal protective equipment (PPE) free of charge, more than one in five workers are being forced to pay for it out of their own pockets.
PPE includes protective clothing, helmets and goggles designed to protect workers from injury, electrical hazards, heat, chemicals, and infection. More than one in 10 (11.6 per cent) of those who responded to the TUC questionnaire said that although their work required them to wear safety equipment of some kind, their employer failed to provide or pay for this.
A further 8.9 per cent were made to pay for any replacement equipment if their original PPE was damaged. In total more than one in five (20 per cent) of respondents to the survey said that they had to pay for providing or replacing all or some of the equipment they needed for their work.
Women workers were even less likely than men to have their safety equipment provided, with more than 15 per cent having to provide all or some of their own attire - usually foot protection or overalls - compared to 10.5 per cent of men.
The TUC was shocked to find that even where the employer provided PPE, the worker usually had to clean the equipment themselves or pay for it to be cleaned. Of those whose equipment needed cleaning, more than three in five (60 per cent) claimed that their employer made no arrangements for providing, or paying the cost of, cleaning.
It is illegal for an employer to charge for any safety equipment. The law also says that every employer has to ensure that any PPE provided to their employees is maintained (including replaced or cleaned as appropriate) in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber commented: "The fact that so many employers are flaunting the law is an absolute scandal."
He continued: "Far too many workers are being forced to provide their own safety protection, whether footwear, boiler suits, overalls or gloves, and this abuse is widespread across a wide range of industries ranging from construction to catering. Even when equipment is provided it is often expected that the worker cleans it or replaces it if damaged."
"Safety equipment is needed to ensure that workers are protected from injury or disease, yet there appears to be very little enforcement of the law. As a result many workers - often those in low-paid service jobs like catering and cleaning - are having to fork out from their own pocket, or go without. This must stop. With the governments cutback of proactive inspections in the workplace this abuse can only grow," said Mt Barber.
* TUC survey details: 2,684 people responded to an online TUC questionnaire between March and June 2012. Of these 2,502 were users of PPE. The most common forms of protection used by those who responded to the survey were footwear (84 per cent), gloves (72 per cent) and overalls or aprons (50 per cent). The Health and Safety Executive defines 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 against one or more risks to their health or safety e.g. safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear and safety harnesses.' All PPE required to protect a worker must be provided free of charge by employers. PPE should be a last resort but often is not. Wherever possible prevention, engineering controls or safe systems of work that could eliminate the hazard, and so the employment of PPE, should be used instead.