Changes to Great Britain's health and safety regulations in the workplace are on the horizon. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has recently concluded a consultation on proposed changes to the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 (the PPE Regulations).
The consultation followed the November 2020 High Court case of The Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain, R (on the application of) v The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions & Ors. In that case, the Court ruled in favour of the Independent Workers’ Union and found that the UK had not properly transposed the EU's Council Directive 89/391/EC (the Framework Directive) and Council Directive (89/656/EEC) (the PPE Directive) into domestic law.
Under the PPE Regulations, businesses in Great Britain are required to provide suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) to those who may be exposed to a health or safety risk while at work. PPE can include items such as safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, and respiratory protective equipment. Under the current law, businesses only owe this duty to their staff members who work under a contract of employment. However, the High Court found that the EU Directives go further than this and require them to provide health and safety protections to limb (b) workers also. A limb (b) worker can include dependent contractors who are self-employed and who personally perform work or provide a service as part of another's business.
The gap in the health and safety protection afforded by employers to workers had existed since the EU directives were transposed into UK law in December 1992, but the Independent Workers’ Union said the COVID-19 pandemic gave the matter a “particular salience and significance”.
The proposed changes to the PPE Regulations could extend a business' responsibility to provide PPE to all staff and therefore bring the legislation into line with the landmark Independent Workers' Union decision.
The position in Northern Ireland is similar, in that the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1993 do not require businesses to provide PPE to those who fall within the category of limb (b) workers. However, in view of the steps which have been taken by the HSE on this issue, it is likely that the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland may follow suit, resulting in similar changes to Northern Ireland's legislation in the future.