As firms reopen and return to workplaces, the role of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in reducing transmission risk is under consideration.
The government guidance is clear – firms that do not usually use PPE do not need to use it as part of their safe return to work plans. But if your risk assessment has shown that you need to use PPE, this guide highlights key points you should consider such as procurement, safe use and disposal.
Read this factsheet to understand the latest guidance from government and Public Health England as well as the views from other businesses on how PPE should be used. The CBI continues to work closely with stakeholders including Unite and Government to ensure businesses can operate safely.
What’s the latest information and insight?
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the lead agency responsible for ensuring workplaces are ‘CV19-secure’, PPE is defined as ‘equipment that will protect the user against health or safety risks at work’. It can include items such as safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear and safety harnesses. It also includes respiratory protective equipment. In the COVID context considerations are largely about the use of masks and gloves.
In the written guidance from government for the return to work as well as CBI discussions with Public Health England and HSE, it is very clear that PPE has a specific role within workplaces – to keep employees safe in the work they are doing in accordance with Health and Safety legislation. Respirators masks, for example, would be used by those exposed to dust hazards in industrial settings. Minimising virus transmission to be part of the intended use of PPE. There is no legal expectation or guidance that PPE should now be used where it was not previously, and in the view of the health experts we have spoken to, is unlikely to be necessary for most firms. It is clear that when thinking about ensuring your workplace is COVID secure, that PPE should be considered as a last resort, not a first port of call.
More information on this guidance can be found here:
Despite the guidance, many firms are planning to use additional PPE as they reopen – to help ensure that both their employees and customers feel safe.
Face coverings are now required for most indoor spaces - with government guidance indicating that medical grade masks should predominantly be reserved for frontline healthcare workers. The British Standards Institution (BSI) has issued a Kitemark certification for face coverings to help reassure consumers their face coverings provide protection for those around them - which will hopefully ease the demand on medical grade face masks.
Considerations for businesses
Carry out your risk assessment and implement other risk control measures
The first step for employers is to carry out their risk assessment (guidance above) and implement risk control measures. There are a range of suggestions that can help firms think through social distancing and ensuring that they have adequate hygiene measures in place; some of them are covered in the CBI’s safe return to work factsheet. Many firms are considering use of Perspex screens and temperature testing as well as the recommendations in the guidance.
If you have a health and safety representative in your workplace, ensure that the risk assessment is discussed with them for input. For firms that do not have a health and safety representative but would find this perspective useful, unions are working with employers to help and to arrange support through the supply chain.
We understand that for some firms, they have included use of PPE such as masks and gloves in their risk assessments to help their employees and customers feel safe, or for certain critical tasks where social distancing cannot be observed. The guidance from 4 July is to remain 2 metres apart where feasible and mitigating the risks at 1 metre where it’s not. The importance of helping employees to feel safe and minimising anxiety about returning to work should not be overlooked. Talking though the safety measures you have put in place and why PPE is or is not being used is crucial.
Think through procurement and what you need – beware of over implementation or buying above the grade required
If PPE is deemed necessary, then think carefully about your procurement strategy to ensure you have access to a sustainable supply that is the maximum grade of PPE that you require.
With global shortages of products and raw materials or PPE experienced or anticipated, firms should only seek to buy what they need. When considering use of masks, it is important to note that FFP2 and FFP3 masks have been in particularly short supply for NHS, social care, and key workers in critical sectors that cannot legally work without them.
Ensure anything you purchase meets relevant standards and is in date. If you are purchasing higher-grade PPE, ensure that you are checking certification. The British Safety Industry Federation has a registered supplier scheme that ensures compliance.
Think about safe usage and safe disposal
Ensure that equipment is fitted and used properly and that you have clear guidance or training for employees as necessary. Even surgical masks are not necessarily intuitive and of no use if worn incorrectly.
Think through your approach to safe disposal and plans for how waste is collected – provide and enforce strict guidance for employees on which bins to use and ensure that no PPE is flushed (consider signage in toilets etc). Inadequate plans for disposal could mean the PPE used becomes a bigger risk to infection transmission than not using the equipment.
Some employers may also be thinking through their policies on face coverings. A face covering is not the same as the surgical masks or respirators used as PPE but may provide some protection for people an infected person comes into contact with, and they are much more widely available. If employees are using face coverings in a workplace setting or for the journey into work it is important that your risk assessment has covered safe and hygienic storage or disposal or face coverings and that employees do not perceive that the face covering replaces other safety measures.
Is your business struggling to access PPE?
If you are struggling to access equipment you need because minimum order volumes are too high or you cannot source the products or materials you need, please get in touch with us and we will see if we can help via the CBI’s PPE working group or use the PPE exchange.
Connect with PPE suppliers on the PPE Exchange
Free to join and free to use, the PPE Exchange allows organisations to register their urgent PPE requirements on a national database where it can be matched with suppliers looking for buyers.
Submit your PPE request
Tell us what demand you are facing
Our team are working to understand the extent of the challenge facing UK businesses on PPE demands. Whatever your size, whatever your sector, whatever demand you are facing – we want to hear from you. Details like numbers and product type are helpful wherever possible.
Tell us what you need
Frequently asked questions
Is a face covering the same as a mask?
No, face coverings are not the same as the surgical masks or respirators used by healthcare and other workers as part of personal protective equipment. The government view is that these should continue to be reserved for those who need them to protect against risks in their workplace, such as health and care workers, and those in industrial settings, like those exposed to dust hazards. Evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you. However, if you are infected but have not yet developed symptoms, it may provide some protection for others you come into close contact with.
What PPE is exempt from VAT?
To help with access to equipment, the government has imposed a temporary zero rate of VAT on PPE. Government guidance is that this exemption will cover all supplies of PPE defined by Public Health England. For more information please consult HM Revenue and Customs’ policy paper.
What is the government guidance on the use of PPE on public transport?
For passengers, government guidance is clear: those that do not need to use public transport as a necessity should not do so. However, if used, commuters should observe social distancing, and the use of face coverings will be mandatory from 15 June.
Listen to the CBI’s on-demand webinar about commuting, keeping commuters safe and confidence in public transport; with guests Baroness Vere, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Transport (DfT) and Matt Brown, Director of News and External Relations for Transport for London (TfL).
For transport operators and organisations, the government has provided measures that can be implemented to provide a safe workspace. The guidance notes that these measures will need to be translated by each provider to meet their specific legal and safety requirements.
- Do you want to supply PPE to the NHS or other businesses? Check out our providing PPE factsheet
- Visit the British Safety Industry Federation website for PPE product certification and registered supplier lists
- The CBI is supporting the PPE Exchange to help organisations access PPE supplies.
For further information on technical specifications for PPE:
- The Cabinet Office and the Department for Health and Social Care has published official technical specifications for many of the PPE categories
- The Office for Product Safety and Standards has produced new guidance for businesses changing their processes to make high volumes of PPE to protect users from COVID-19
- Standards relevant to PPE for COVID-19 are available free from the British Standards Institution and there are also WHO guidelines on COVID-19.