Many employers are aware of their basic duty of care to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) at work, but do they really consider the value and the importance of health and safety workwear in their organisation?

Employers recognise the need to provide safety wear to protect their staff from carrying out tasks in a high risk environment; for example, to protect from burning if employees work close to hot ovens or furnaces. What, though, are the thought processes that managers and supervisors go through when issuing safety workwear?

When an employee has to conduct a task in a risky environment, and they do not feel completely protected, they will be keeping an eye on protecting themselves rather than carrying out the task as efficiently and effectively as they could. Issuing basic protective workwear does help to overcome this risk, but does it really place a value on helping the employee to be as comfortable and productive as they possibly could be?

If, for example, employees are working in hot environments, is the material that the protective clothing is made of fully breathable and made of natural fibres that will absorb perspiration? Is the employee’s movement restricted because the clothing is too bulky?

When considering purchasing new assets for a company, management will assess the best equipment looking at issues of output, performance and value. If the outputs can be improved on a new piece of equipment, then the cost can be justified. Is this the same when considering our employees and their health and safety workwear? Too often managers just provide the basic level of protection to cover the risk, but have they really thought about the quality and options available, and how poor quality workwear, may protect the employee, but can impact on their productivity?

I believe there is a business case for ensuring that employees are protected in a comfortable manner. This will allow them to feel safe when carrying out a hazardous task. Staff who are supplied well fitting, quality workwear are more likely to feel valued and more motivated; ultimately this can help with the retention and recruitment of staff.

Workplace risks are varied and include the obvious serious electricity risks, fire, chemical hazards and dangerous machinery which can cause fatality or loss of limbs or sight. There are other unseen risks that do not necessarily cause an immediate problem, yet can cause significant issues to an employee’s hearing, skin, lungs and breathing.

Employers should always consider weighing up risk with comfort. The comfort factor should not be considered just from a production and value perspective, but from a knowledge that wrongly fitted personal protecting clothing can have fatal consequences. For example, loose fitting protective clothing can easily get caught in machinery, causing a serious accident.

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