It is commonly believed that the use of PPE restricts and slows down work. Sometimes certain work may take so little time that you could perform it multiple times in the time it takes to pick up PPE. It may seem that the short exposure time to noise or vibration does not cause harm, because it lasts so little time.
People often fear to be different from other employees because if others do not wear PPE, they do not want to appear weaker. They often lack the courage to ask for proper equipment required to perform work. However, they are brave enough to believe that nothing bad can happen. “Faster, higher, farther!” – personal protective equipment restricts us in this path and is a tedious obligation.
According to the statistics of the Labour Inspectorate, almost 10% of serious and fatal accidents at work occur due to the lack or non-use of personal protective equipment. Unbeknownst to the employee, illness can be caused by long-term aspiration of a hazardous chemical or exposure to a noisy environment. An employee has the right to request personal protective equipment from the employer if a risk factor may affect the employee’s health.
Areas where personal protective equipment must be worn shall be marked with safety signs at the workplace. The sign shall indicate where the hazard occurs, which hazard it is and which PPE shall be used. An employee shall use personal protective equipment in accordance with the instructions for use and instructions given by the employer and to keep it in working order. If the personal protective equipment provided to an employee does not fully meet the need for protection, causes an excessive burden on the user or is not suitable for use in certain working conditions, the employer or his/her immediate supervisor shall be notified immediately. When selecting personal protective equipment and determining the procedure for its use, the employer shall take into account the proposals of employees and working environment representatives.
Procedures for the use of personal protective equipment
The employer shall determine the procedure and duration of the use of personal protective equipment, taking into account the magnitude of the hazard, the frequency of exposure to the hazard, the specifics of the place of work and the characteristics of the personal protective equipment. When organising work, the additional physical or mental burden caused by the personal protective equipment shall be taken into account. Where necessary, breaks, restrictions on use or other measures to maintain the worker’s ability to work shall be provided.
An employer provides personal protective equipment and arranges its maintenance and cleaning at his or her own expense. Personal protective equipment is generally intended for personal use. Where circumstances require the use of the same personal protective equipment by several employees, the employer should take measures to ensure that users do not experience any problems with health or hygiene.
The employer shall ensure that the personal protective equipment is used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions for the entire duration of the hazardous work, and monitor its use. Records of personal protective equipment, suitable storage conditions and regular inspection and maintenance shall also be ensured. In the latter case, the requirements of the instructions for use shall be followed.
Personal protective equipment that has expired or otherwise become unsuitable for use or contaminated parts thereof that can be replaced shall be handled in accordance with the Waste Act.
Inspecting the use of personal protective equipment
An employee shall use personal protective equipment issued to him or her in accordance with the instructions for use and instructions given by the employer and keep it in working order. Although an employee has a legal obligation to use the personal protective equipment issued to him or her properly, the employer also has the obligation to ensure that the personal protective equipment is used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions for the entire duration of the hazardous work. This means that the employer must inspect that employees use the personal protective equipment issued to them correctly throughout the hazardous work. The employer shall also ensure that personal protective equipment is used correctly. For example, if a helmet is worn backwards, the helmet may not provide protection from a blow to the forehead.
If the employer or immediate supervisor of an employee sees that employees do not use personal protective equipment or use PPE incorrectly, this behaviour shall be addressed immediately, otherwise the employees are left with the impression that work without PPE is allowed in the enterprise. If, despite the remarks, an employee still does not use personal protective equipment, the employer can issue a warning to the employee stating that it is not acceptable to work in the enterprise without proper personal protective equipment. If the employee does not start using personal protective equipment despite the warning, the employment contract will be terminated due to breach by the employee.
Personal protective equipment shall be stored in a place where it is protected from damage and contamination when not in use. In this way, it lasts longer and provides the necessary level of protection. The storage space can be a separate furnished room or a locker near the place of work. Personal protective equipment can also be stored in the staff dressing room. It is important to ensure that personal protective equipment can be maintained and cleaned. Leaving ear muffs in a dusty environment will cause them to wear more quickly and reduce the elasticity of the ear muff’s material, which is important for covering the ear canals. Appropriate storage prevents premature wear of personal protective equipment.
The employer is required to keep records of the personal protective equipment issued to the employees. It gives the employer an overview of the personal protective equipment purchased for employees, their lifetime, and to whom they have been issued. It is recommended to add the following information when keeping records:
- the type of personal protective equipment issued;
- when the personal protective equipment was issued;
- to whom the personal protective equipment was issued;
- the signature of the employee on the receipt of the personal protective equipment;
- lifetime of personal protective equipment.
If disposable PPE is issued as a large package (e.g., a package containing 50 dust masks), it is acceptable to record the initial issue in the PPE records. It is not necessary to separately record the removal of each subsequent dust mask from the larger package.
Can an employee refuse to use personal protective equipment?
The Labour Inspectorate has been asked several times whether an employer can have an employee sign a statement that the employee refuses to use personal protective equipment, i.e. whether the employee can be held personally liable for violating occupational health and safety requirements. Certainly, the employee also has personal responsibility, but this does not release the employer from liability – it cannot be agreed that both the employer and the employee violate the law together, but only the employee is liable. An employer and an employee cannot enter into an agreement to violate the law. If an employee refuses to use the personal protective equipment issued to him or her, suitable personal protective equipment should be found. Personal protective equipment should be suitable for the user, meet the requirements of ergonomics and be in accordance with the employee’s state of health. In this situation, an occupational health doctor may also be involved in the selection of personal protective equipment, who can make a recommendation for the use of the most appropriate personal protective equipment based on the state of health of the particular employee. For example, if a cleaner is allergic to a particular material, the doctor can say which material his or her skin tolerates and whether a glove could be worn underneath.
As a last resort, the employer may consider terminating the employment relationship after giving a warning. Pursuant to clause 88 (1) 3) of the Employment Contracts Act, an employment contract can be extraordinarily cancelled with good reason arising from the employee as a result of which, upon respecting mutual interests, the continuance of the employment relationship cannot be expected, especially if the employee has in spite of a warning, disregarded the employer’s reasonable instructions or breached his or her duties.