PPE in Construction: The Cost of Getting it Wrong

PPE in Construction: The Cost of Getting it Wrong

Without the correct PPE in construction lives are put at risk and getting it wrong could also mean potentially damaging costs for your business.

Did you know that failing to provide a construction worker with industry-standard headgear could cost you a staggering £344,400 in compensation if that worker were to have an accident? Even a minor injury could incur compensation costs of up to £2,300.

Most construction leaders and managers know that they are responsible for ensuring workers wear the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when working on site. But many aren’t quite so clued up on the cost of getting it wrong.

This blog answers some FAQs and reveals the true costs of getting PPE wrong. First, let’s consider how the construction industry is faring when it comes to enforcing PPE.

The PPE Landscape in Construction

As you well know, the construction sector has more safety obligations than most. Working in construction is dangerous. Worryingly though, the industry has a notoriously poor record for health and safety breaches and not following proper practice around PPE is widespread.

Lawyer Monthly reports that “98% of employees have seen colleagues not wearing PPE when they were supposed to, with a further 30% saying this happens on a regular basis.” This is dangerous territory for employers who are not only responsible for providing adequate PPE, but also for making sure it is used at appropriate times and worn correctly.

The Cost of Getting PPE Wrong

The value of adhering to correct PPE requirements cannot be overstated. PPE can prevent serious injury and even save lives. By not supplying protective clothing and equipment to the right standards, not properly checking PPE supplied by workers themselves, or simply not supplying PPE at all, the costs are potentially huge.

Using a personal injury claims calculator, you can quickly see how much a compensation claim could add up. Here are some examples:

  • A severe back or neck injury could cost you up to £151,040!
  • A compensation claim for any injury leading to paralysis could cost £344,640
  • Hand and arm injuries occur relatively frequently in construction – a single finger fracture or minor hand injury could set you back £4,055, while a severe arm injury could lead to compensation of up to £111,690!
  • Foot injuries are also common in construction – a minor injury could cost up to £11,730 with a more serious injury causing permanent damage up to £93,540! These type of injuries, we all know, might be preventable by wearing the correct safety boots.

And these costs are just for personal injury claims. Any wrongdoing may also lead to a prosecution and fines. HSE led 143 prosecution cases in the year 2019/20; 137 of these led to conviction for at least one offence and fines totalled £8.3 million, averaging over £60,000 per conviction.

It’s not just the compensation and fines businesses should be concerned about. Companies may be sued and have their reputation shattered. The incident could make a company’s liability insurance invalid and it may even be banned from operating. Getting PPE wrong could literally cost lives and close your business.

PPE: What are the Employer’s Responsibilities?Man sat at a desk using a calculator

It is vital that construction companies provide safe and compliant PPE that withstands demands when it matters. Leaders, managers, and staff also need to be well versed in what can go wrong and how to mitigate the risks.

PPE that protects people from worksite dangers is regulated by the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992.

Regulation 4 states:

“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 except where and to the extent that such risk has been adequately controlled by other means which are equally or more effective.”

Everyone working on a construction site or project, including contractors or agency workers, should know when PPE is required and what those requirements are. It is the employer’s responsibility to provide the appropriate PPE required for the job in hand. Employers are also required to protect the health and wellbeing of their staff under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

Who is Responsible for Providing PPE?

Employers must provide certain PPE to employees for free. Essentially this is anything (protective equipment or clothing) that is essential for the job or site. Employers are NOT responsible for the provision of ordinary clothing (or anything that is essentially worn off site).

Workers can supply their own PPE, but it must conform to standards, and importantly, liability still falls with the employer. Employers must also supply PPE to contractors if they are legally regarded as employees of the company.

When Should PPE be Used in Construction?

The types of PPE used on construction sites include the following:

  • Earplugs or earmuffs to protect workers from noise (from the operation of loud construction equipment)
  • Safety gloves to protect hand from sharp objects, machinery, heavy objects or chemical or thermal hazards (gloves with a cuff, gauntlets and/or sleeving that covers part or all of the arm, may be necessary)
  • Hard hats to protect from falling objects (these should be worn by everyone on the construction site and should be light in colour to provide some heat protection from the sun)
  • Eyeglasses or safety goggles to protect from flying particles or splashes of corrosive liquids
  • Face screens or visors to protect from extreme heat (e.g. when welding)
  • Respirators or breathing apparatus to protect from dust, gas or vapours
  • Specialist clothing to protect from corrosive liquids
  • Overalls where workers require full body protection (i.e. to protect from contaminated dust, such as asbestos, or protection from chemical or metal splashes)
  • Safety boots with the correct soles to prevent slipping and steel toes to protect feet from anything that may be dropped on them (could be job-specific footwear, such as chainsaw or foundry boots)
  • Harnesses to protect employees working at height

You can find out more about controlling risks on site here.

What PPE is Mandatory on a Construction Site?

Employers must provide suitable PPE as determined by the risk assessment carried out for the site or job. This includes any necessary PPE to protect eyes, face, head, hands, and feet, as well as protective clothing, breathing devices, and shields. There are some legal requirements. These are:

  • Head protection
  • Foot protection
  • Hi-visibility clothing
  • Body protection

The current legislation which refers to the supply of personal protective equipment is the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2016/425, which is enforced by the Personal Protective Equipment (Enforcement) Regulations 2018.

PPE must also have the correct conformity marking. From 1st January 2023, all new PPE supplied in England, Scotland and Wales must be marked with the UKCA marking (or have documentation that is marked with it). The current supply of PPE with CE marking is allowed until 31st December 2022.

What About Training to Use PPE? Who is Responsible?

The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 place duties on employees to take reasonable steps to ensure that the PPE provided is properly used.

Employers also have a responsibility to ensure that PPE is:

  • Properly assessed before use to make sure it is fit for purpose;
  • Maintained and stored properly;
  • Provided with instructions on how to use it safely;
  • Used correctly by employees.

Employers must ensure employees are trained to use any PPE properly, and that they know how to detect and report any faults. It is a good idea to display a PPE checklist for construction staff, so the company policy is clear.

In Summary

Building sites are rife with hazards and the stats speak for themselves. In 2019/20 there were 61,000 non-fatal injuries and 40 fatalities. In construction, a small breach of PPE or health and safety rules could literally be a matter of life and death. 

The statistics on building-site injuries are shocking, with the construction sector suffering the greatest number of work-related deaths of any sector in the UK. Construction companies should be doing better at protecting their workers and getting PPE right is a small price to pay.

Joblogic helps construction companies plan, manage, and optimise their entire business operation in a single system. If you would like to know more, get in touch today.

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