Whose Responsibility Is It to Provide PPE?

Posted on written by Sam Barton

Every job comes with a degree of risk however in certain occupations working with hazardous materials or in dangerous conditions is much more common.

In November 2017, we looked at the latest statistics from the Health and Safety Executive. It showed that there were over 70,000 injuries reported by employers in 2016-17 and while this was a slight decrease on the year before, it still amounts to a sizable number. In many cases using proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) can significantly reduce the risk of certain incidents causing injury.

In this weeks’ blog, we are going to explore PPE, what it is and what the law says that an employer must provide for employee’s.

What Is Personal Protective Equipment?

In short, Personal Protective Equipment or PPE as it is generally known as is a measure to protect employees from a wide range of potentially dangerous materials or activities in the workplace.

You can read a short history of PPE here.

PPE can range from hard hats, specialised clothing or masks that might only be used in certain scenarios. Even though in many workplaces PPE is vital to protect an employee from harm, where does the onus lie on providing this equipment? Is it up to the employer or is it the employee themselves?

Does an Employer Have To Provide PPE?

The law is fairly straightforward for the most part when it comes to Personal Protective Equipment. There are even regulations called the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations (1992) that set this out quite clearly.

“Every employer shall ensure that suitable personal protective equipment is provided to his employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health or safety while at work except where and to the extent that such risk has been adequately controlled by other means which are equally or more effective.” (Regulation 4)

So, if the risk to health and safety cannot be nullified without using PPE, then an employer needs to provide certain equipment to their workers. Furthermore, if we look at Section 9 of the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974), an employer can’t charge for PPE if it is only used for the purposes of work so an employee should never have to pay for hard hats or certain protective clothing if it is necessary to keep them safe whilst doing their job.

What About Agency Workers & the Self-Employed?

There are many misconceptions when it comes to agency workers and PPE.

Some employers don’t technically class agency workers as employees however even though they paid by an agency as soon as they commence work they are deemed an employee and have to be supplied with PPE the same as everyone else.

Self-employed workers are a little bit different. Unless the person who is self-employed is solely working with one employer on a full-time basis then they have to provide their own PPE that meets the required standard of that workplace.

Personal Protective Equipment has a broad scope and covers a wide range of different things that are designed to keep workers safe.

The HSE also has a handy guide on PPE that looks at what types of equipment are required in certain situations.

Have you ever had problems with getting PPE at work? What about if you were an agency worker? Let us know!

Whose responsibility is PPE. Legislation and health and safety surrounding PPE.

18 Responses to “Whose Responsibility Is It to Provide PPE?”

  1. kevin.monks

    I work in all weathers for an agency and do not get p.p.e, supplied . I would like to know they responsible for supplying it to me.

    • Nisha Dhingra

      Hi Kevin,

      Thank you for your comment. The HSE states “For temporary workers, in many cases the employment business would be the employer and would be responsible for ensuring any necessary protective equipment is provided”. As a result, I would advise you to speak with your agency, as the business your working under should provide you with PPE equipment. If you would like further information on HSE regulations on PPE please click here.

      I hope I have been able to help.

      Kind regards,


  2. Peter Clements

    do full time students have to provide their own PPE? Or is the College obliged to provide it?

    • Sam Barton

      Hi Peter,

      The organisation controlling the site so probably school management has a duty to keep people on the site safe. Typically an employer would provide PPE in line with their risk assessments to their employees and they are required to by law.

      With students, it’s a little more of a grey area. If you are an employee they’d have to provide it if you were a visitor they could say you can only come on to their site if you wear it and provide it yourself.

      Ultimately if you feel unsafe performing a task you should stop and speak to someone about that. If they won’t provide PPE you should have a conversation about that too. On the plus side, if you ultimately purchase PPE yourself it belongs to you and you can take it into the workplace as a self-employed tradesperson or similar.

      Good luck with your training and all the best.


  3. John Pearson

    I work for winner recruitment I am contracted to Hermes Warrington sorting parcels . I have the impression that Hermes believes that the agencies provide ppe. I can live with that , but they charged for it , I reported to the HSE and they contacted Hermes and advised they shouldn’t charge .Where it gets iffy ( I’m Nebosh and Josh qualified admittedly not been involved in HS for 10 years ) us that covid 19 is on us we are as of today classed as key workers We are finding it hard to get ppe such as gloves as the Agency recruitment are now off site to reduce their risk of infection .Also there are no masks. Now to my questions who is responsible for providing ppe ? If it’s the agency this shouldn’t mean that Hermes can shirk it’s respivsibilities for health and safety as they have a duty of care for anybody on their premises ? If this is the case then it’s the Directors of Hermes who are legally responsible for keeping employees safe either agency or contracted Hermes staff .Hermes us saying it’s agencys responsibility and then allowing agency workers to work without the required ppe

    • Sam Barton

      Hi John,

      The agency is responsible for your safety and PPE as you are their employee, Hermes is also responsible as you are working on their site. You could ask to see the risk assessment for your work activity, it should address covid and will probably list PPE as a control measure, if you don’t have access to the PPE they shouldn’t let you do the work activity until you either do or they put in other controls.

      If Hermes believe the agency should be providing the PPE but isn’t then to me the agency isn’t providing the service they’ve told Hermes, the agency working remotely won’t be accepted as an excuse by the HSE.

      If you don’t feel safe then you have a right to say so, ask to see the risk assessment, if it’s not being followed because a lack of equipment they need to solve that before it starts. They might find this frustrating but you’re helping them to avoid a run-in with the HSE.

      I hope this helps, stay safe.

  4. Seyi


    I work for a care agency in England, a very big agency with other £20M turnover annually.
    Usually they don’t provide PPE as the care homes does. However, looking at the number of shift they get especially during this unprecedented time of the Covid-19 pandemic, is the agency responsible for providing PPE to the carers and nurses? If yes, are neglecting their duty of care to carers and nurses?


    • Sam Barton

      Hi Seyi,

      The short answer is both the agency and the care home is responsible for your PPE. Take a look at point 36 in https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/priced/l25.pdf.

      It says that the site operator is usually better placed to identify and provide PPE, in this case, the care home may be in a better position to provide gloves in areas or before tasks that require them, rather than the agency giving you a box of gloves you may leave at home. If the care home is providing PPE the agency does not have to provide it again. The agency still has a responsibility to make sure you are getting PPE, if you aren’t they have to provide it.

      The care home has a duty to protect everyone on its site, and the agency has a responsibility to protect its employees. They can not point the finger at one another, and could both potentially be prosecuted.


  5. Andrea

    Where does it say in the legislation that a self employed person (working full time for one company) doesn’t have to supply their own PPE please? My husband is struggling to get his boss to pay for his.

    • Sam Barton

      Hi Andrea,

      I’m afraid it’s a bit of a grey area, the point 39 in https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/priced/l25.pdf says that you cannot charge for employees or those considered employees under law. If you only work for one company only you may under law be considered employed rather than self-employed there’s some more information on that here https://www.gov.uk/working-for-yourself/what-counts-as-self-employed.

      Even then it’s still very much a grey area, if the company can argue that you are self-employed then you are responsible for buying your own PPE. There are a lot of conversations going on around this at the moment because of the ‘gig economy’ and workers being exploited so I’d expect to see some changes to self-employed person’s rights if they work for only one company.


  6. Nicky

    Can a shop charge you a surcharge to cover the cost of PPE for their staff?

    • Sam Barton

      Hi Nicky,

      That’s more competition law than health and safety so we are not the best organisation to offer advice I’m afraid. I will, however, say that there are laws in the UK to stop shops exploiting customers. Shops have a right to cover their costs, if they have to pay their staff more for example their prices are likely to rise. So if they are now having to purchase equipment to allow them to open prices may go up. If prices are seen to rise in an attempt to take advantage of consumers (we all heard stories of shops charging £30 for hand sanitiser), that company could be charged.

      For more information or to report unfair behaviour visit the Gov site https://www.gov.uk/guidance/tell-the-cma-about-a-competition-or-market-problem.

      I hope this has helped a little.


  7. Grant

    If an individual has been supplied with PPE that has led to that person being exposed to risk or worse it has led to an actual accident, because the PPE supplied is not the correct PPE, and to confuse things slightly that PPE was actually supplied by another company i.e. not the actual employer. Could the company that supplied the PPE to the individual be held liable? There is clearly responsibility on the employer, but the buyer of the PPE also has responsibilities too (letter of conformity etc.). If representatives of said organisation simply buy someone PPE that they “think” is the correct PPE without actually looking into it properly (checking assessments), surely there will be an element of liability? Similar to some comments above, people are being bought PPE to start with employers/agencies but they are not conducting the proper checks to check the suitability of the PPE.

    • Sam Barton

      Hi Grant,

      Interesting question, and sounds like quite a complicated process in your organisation, that is more common than we’d like in large organisations though.

      If you’ve been provided PPE that isn’t suitable for the task then either the risk assessment and method statement isn’t correct or you or your supervisor aren’t following a correct risk assessment. You can’t just through PPE at a risk and make everything ok, PPE is a last resort and other controls should be considered first and alongside PPE.

      If the risk assessment is good, the type of PPE is good and someone has purchased the wrong PPE, you shouldn’t use it to do the job until an alternative risk assessment and method statement are provided that can make the job safe.

      If you purchase the correct PPE and it turns up and isn’t fit for purpose then the manufacturer would be liable, although possibly more so under consumer law rather than health and safety.

      There are responsibilities all along the way and in your event above, if the HSE were to investigate an incident they’d probably find fault in more than one place and act accordingly. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the person trying to blame someone else in this scenario.

      If you’re doing the job, the main thing you should consider is, are you happy with the risk assessment and method statement, does it make the job safe to do. If it doesn’t you shouldn’t do the job, you should stop and speak to your supervisor and discuss ways to make that job safe. If the risk assessment is spot on but you aren’t provided the PPE, tools, time etc to follow it then you shouldn’t do the job. Again, you should speak to a supervisor and discuss that. Try to get involved with the risk assessments, too often we see people writing risk assessments that have never seen the job done which results in risk assessments that are unrealistic.

      I hope this helps, stay safe.


  8. Tina

    As an employed barder working 8.1/2 hrs a day for 4 days ..mon to thurs do i have to pay for my ppe ..which is a face shield and 4 cloth masks ..thank you Bournemouth Dorset

  9. Phil

    My directors have sent a email to all staff to say that it is now our responsibly to provide our own PPE or they will supply and we need to pay them. we are an independent estate agent. Can they make us buy our own and are they allowed to change to for things they supply.

    • Sam Barton

      Hi Phil,

      If the directors are the directors of the estate agent that you work for, and therefore they employ you, they cannot ask you to pay for PPE. They are legally obligated to provide PPE to keep you safe, if their risk assessment is suitable and sufficient and doesn’t need PPE then you neither need to purchase it or they provide it.


      Take a look at page 13 point 37 in the above HSE guidance document.

      I hope this helps.


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