Director Briefings Part 12: PPE – Bottom of the Hierarchy of Controls


The last in our current series of Directors’ Briefings, this vodcast from H&S Solicitor Sue Dearden and occupational hygienist Steve Cowley takes a look at PPE, why it’s at the bottom of the hierarchy of controls, and the role Directors have in;

  • challenging its use within their organisation when better risk controls could be used, and
  • reinforcing compliance with the correct use of PPE when there is no better alternative.

We hope you have found this series of briefings useful. Look out for our quiz next week to test your understanding of the key areas discussed in the briefings which will help reinforce the messages we have delivered, and help you to avoid personal liability for breach of health and safety duties.

If you are interested in personalised training for your Board and senior managers on any of the topics covered, please do contact our training manager [email protected] to discuss your requirements.

PPE – Bottom of the Hierarchy of Controls Transcript

Thank you for joining us for this Director’s briefing on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).  I’m Sue Dearden and I’m a solicitor specialising in health and safety at Finch and with me today is Steve Cowley who is an occupational hygienist. 

Cutting straight to the chase Steve, what do people mean when they refer to PPE?

PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)  Sue is any equipment worn or used or held by someone to protect them against a hazard at work.

That definition comes pretty much from the PPE Regulations 1992.  There are also 2018 Regulations which impose requirements that PPE has CE marking on it.  But the 1992 regulations are really what we are working from.

Yes, and those regulations take the principle from the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act and give detail on why PPE is at the bottom of the hierarchy of controls – it’s the last resort in terms of risk control.

The regulations also include provisions about getting the right equipment for the risk, checking, maintaining, and replacing it when it becomes worn and damaged and so on.  So, let’s assume that a company has got a reasonably competent health and safety manager in place who has done a risk assessment about what is needed and the PPE that needs to be used.  What can a Director do, because a Director has overarching responsibility for health and safety in the business,  but doesn’t necessarily have detailed knowledge of the regulations, to support the Health and Safety manager in this area?

A Director can be a questioner.  As they are walking around the workplace they can simply question why things are the way they are and in this case asking why personal protective equipment is being used, rather than a better control, an engineering control for example.

So, if someone is wearing a respirator, just ask. Ask their health and safety professional why aren’t we using exhaust ventilation, why haven’t we looked at controls that eliminate the use of a chemical, or some way of controlling dust so that it’s not released when the chemical is handled.  So, it is that questioning role that I think Directors can play.

And why is PPE at the bottom of the hierarchy of controls?

It’s at the bottom of the hierarchy of controls because it is effectively letting the hazard exist in the workplace.  You are exposing the person, so the hazard and you are wrapping them up in some way to protect them from that hazard.  So, in the case of a respirator which I mentioned just now, we are releasing the chemical, and then putting a barrier on the person, as opposed to controlling the hazard at source.  If it’s noise, we are releasing the noise into the work environment and then putting a barrier on the person.   And that relies on the person keeping that barrier in place for the whole time they are exposed to the hazard.  It assumes that anyone that walks into the workplace is going to have to put that protection on and maintain that protection while they are in that environment.  So, it is really not controlling at source, it is controlling at the person, hence the personal protective equipment.

It’s a demanding risk control in terms of management. And a Director seeing someone maybe not wearing their PPE correctly, or maybe not wearing it at all can also question and find out where have we broken down in this process, discover maybe we don’t have an effective management process we can use and so prompt a move back up the hierarchy of controls.

I think that’s probably a good topic and a good point to end our current series of Director’s briefings.  We hope you have found them useful and of course if anyone has any questions or needs guidance from any of the amazing consultants and experts that we have at Finch and whose work involves these sorts of risks every day, helping business and industry to comply with their legal duties and checking and testing compliance in a range of areas then please do get in touch.

And of course, if things do go wrong Finch Legal can help.  They have a great track record of keeping regulatory investigations out of Court.

That was the last of our toolbox talks in the series of 12 and if you have missed any do go back onto our website ( and have a look for them. 

We will now be publishing an online quiz to check understanding of key points from the toolbox talks so do have a look as well at those. 

Thank you for listening.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us on the subject of PPE or any other topics which have been raised in this series of Director Briefings.

[email protected]

[email protected]

Director Briefings | Finch Consulting

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