December 2010 – suitable personal protective equipment

- News,

The suitability of personal protective equipment – Threlfall v Hull City Council.

In a 2004 case, Fytche v Wincanton Logistics, a personal injury claim failed when an employee developed frostbite in his foot because his safety boots leaked. The safety boots had been provided to protect against impact injuries to the foot and the employers’ risk assessment did not consider the risk of frostbite when, arguably , it ought to have done, writes Stephen Brookes. ” The case has attracted some criticism since it effectively meant that the employer was free to identify the risks inherent in the employment and could ignore a risk it should have incuded but did not when it conducted the risk assessment.”
But now, the case of Threlfall v Hull City Council may serve to establish that when an employer is judging the suitability of protective equipment the employer must be careful to include all objectively foreseeable risks and not just the risks subjectively considered likely by that individual employer. The facts may help to illustrate the point.

Steven Threlfall was employed by Hull Council to clear debris from the gardens of properties owned by the council. A risk assessment had been carried out and he had been provided with riggers’ gloves which he used to carry bin bags of rubbish left in the gardens. One particular bin bag contained a sharp object which severed an artery and tendon to his little finger on his left hand as he picked up the bag. He needed an operation to repair the damage.
The supplier of the gloves could have supplied cut resistant gloves had it been asked to do so by the council, but the risk assessment it conducted did not refer to the risk of laceration injuries. The Personal Injuries Protective Equipment Regulations 1992 require protective equipment to be suitable and what is suitable must be decided by carrying out a risk assessment. The Council conceded that the work involved a risk of laceration injuries but its defence was that the risk was very low. The Court decided that since there was some risk of laceration injury effective gloves had to be provided to control this risk and the gloves so provided did not. The claimant succeeded.