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Your guide to accessible PPE

As an employer you are responsible for the health, safety and welfare of all of your employees, and this includes ensuring that they have the necessary PPE to do their jobs safely. For employees with a disability, the Equality Act (2010) also applies, meaning that you also have a specific duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments to ensure accessible PPE.

Not only is this a legal requirement, but it does also make good business sense to provide accessible PPE.

A UK labour force survey for 2020 shows that there are around 4.4 million people with declared disabilities in work and as experienced and skilled workers get older, they could acquire a disability, changing your responsibilities as an employer.

Accessibility tip 1: find solutions for individuals…

With PPE, there are some specific issues to consider. Whilst it is obvious that a one size fits all approach won’t cover all disabilities – e.g. someone struggling with hearing loss will need different workplace adjustments than, say, someone who has epilepsy - there is an important rule of thumb that will make your workplace safer which is to ensure that you have a specific conversation with each employee about possible PPE adjustments, rather than making assumptions about what might be suitable.

This is because you may not be aware of hidden disabilities and disclosure rates of disabilities in the workplace are low – according to some UK disability organisations it stands at only 3%. So, you may well have staff in your workplace with hidden disabilities where simple PPE adjustments could improve their ability to focus and perform duties safely in the workplace.

In addition to having these conversations, the UK Government website also has some useful tips on adjustments that you can discuss with employees. These include measures such as an audio-visual fire alarm for a deaf employee or supporting someone with social anxiety disorder by offering them their own workstation instead of moving them about in different locations each day. For more information, you can visit the website below:

Accessibility tip 2: It’s not just about wheelchairs

Many people focus on mobility issues when considering what adjustments may be necessary but less visible conditions are also a significant consideration when thinking about accessible PPE.

Hearing loss

Hearing loss is one of those hidden conditions which has a significant impact in the workplace. At least 4 million people of working age in the UK are affected by hearing loss, according to the charity Hearing Link. A recent survey showed that over 70% of people felt their hearing loss prevented them from fulfilling their potential at work because of communication issues, with over 68% saying they felt isolated because of their hearing loss.

Hearing loss covers a broad range of needs - from someone who may be profoundly deaf relying on British Sign Language to someone with mild hearing loss who may need a position in the workplace where sound is transmitted well and to be able to lip read. PPE can be a barrier preventing effective communication for people who rely on lip reading to understand what is being said. Instead of using facemasks, you could consider using visors to allow lip reading and improve communication for employees who may need to lip-read to understand full conversations. Face shields like the one shown below offer a good alternative to face masks.

Vision impairment

Ensuring eye protection for workers who wear glasses is also critical, again as workers get older, their eyesight may well change. Statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that around three out of five workers suffering an eye injury at work were not wearing safety glasses or wearing the wrong kind of protection. Eye protection should be fitted to the individual worker or be adjustable, so it provides sufficient peripheral vision. These over glasses eye protection such as the Xceed overspec are a cost-effective way to avoid eye injuries.

Autism and Sensory processing sensitivity

Other less well-known hidden conditions include Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) which is a challenge that many autistic people manage every day. This may mean they feel overwhelmed or anxious if they have to wear coarse fabrics or uncomfortable shoes, creating a barrier to using PPE. Again, there are simple adjustments such as providing looser-fitting production wear such as aprons that can be adjusted or lab coats which can be incredibly useful for employees struggling with SPD.

Most importantly though, if you follow that all-important principle of talking to your employees to understand the PPE adjustments they may need, you can’t go far wrong. And it will help you to find those cost-effective and simple changes that create happier, more productive employees all around.

As always our team are happy to help you find the best products to suit your specific needs. Contact us at or call 01726 74264


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