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Construction general

Personal Protective Equipment

Head protection

Does the law require head protection on construction sites?

For the vast majority of cases yes - on almost all construction sites the risks of head injury are such that the law requires head protection to be worn.

Construction work should be organised to minimise this risk, for example: preventing objects falling by using scaffolds with toe boards and, if necessary, brick guards.  But if after organising work to minimise the risk of head injury, the risks still remain, you should:

  • Ensure all workers are provided with, and wear, suitable head protection.
    This is necessary to comply with the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 1992 which, from 6 April applies to the provision and wearing of head protection on construction sites following the revocation of the Construction (Head Protection) Regulations 1989.

What is ‘suitable’ head protection?

Head protection should:

  • be in good condition.  If it’s damaged, throw it away
  • fit the person wearing it and be worn properly
  • not stop you wearing hearing protectors as well (when needed)
  • only be obtained from a reputable supplier – there are fake hard hats on the market

How can I ensure head protection is worn?

  • by making it a site rule
  • always wearing your hard hat to set an example
  • checking others are wearing theirs

Are there exemptions to the wearing of head protection for specific religious groups?

Yes. Section 11(1) of the Employment Act 1989 as amended by Section 6 of the Deregulation Act 2015 exempts turban-wearing Sikhs from any legal requirement to wear a safety helmet in a workplace, including a construction site. The exemption applies only to head protection and turban-wearing Sikhs should wear other required personal protective equipment. This exemption applies to any turban-wearing Sikh eg visitors, employees; there is no such exemption for Sikhs who choose not to wear a turban or for other religious groups.

Are safety helmets compulsory?

If there is no risk of injury to the head, then hard hats are not required by law.  However, on almost all construction sites, despite controls being put in place, there will almost always be situations where a risk of head injury remains.  Where there are such risks, for example, from falling objects or hitting the head against something, suitable head protection should be provided and worn (except for turban-wearing Sikhs). Where turban-wearing Sikhs are working in areas where a significant residual risk of head injury remains, employers should pay particular attention to the control measures that they have in place.

Clothing and footwear

Is it okay to wear shorts on a construction site?

If the site has a policy on clothing that does not allow shorts then you are expected to follow this rule. 

Clothing needs to protect against hazards on site.  The main reason for protecting the lower legs is to help guard against cuts, grazes and splinters etc in an environment where any skin damage can lead to infection.  Some trades need to keep skin covered for other reasons - eg arc welders are exposed to high levels of ultra violet light that will cause skin damage.

During summer on very bright days it is important to protect against over exposure to sunlight which can cause skin cancer.  Cases of malignant melanoma have increased dramatically in recent years. 

During cold weather it is important to keep warm, especially when, for example, working at height where the cold can distract and lead to loss of concentration. 

Do I have to wear safety footwear on a construction site?

Yes.  Construction workers are expected to wear protective footwear whilst on site and doing heavy work.  The bones in the foot are quite delicate and easily damaged and any muscle or tendon damage can prevent normal movement for several months.  Steel toecaps (or equivalent) protect against dropped objects.  Midsole protection (usually a steel plate) protects against puncture or penetration if you tread on a nail.  If you need to enter or work on a construction site your employer will provide a basic standard of safety footwear.  You do not have to pay for this so long as you look after it and make it last a reasonable time. If there are medical reasons why you cannot wear basic safety footwear your employer will pay for suitable kit.

Ensure any PPE you buy is ‘CE’ marked and complies with the requirements of the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002. The supplier/manufacturer should be able to tell you if the PPE is suitable for the type of task.

Further information is available in A short guide to the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992

Is it okay to wear rigger boots on a construction site?

Over recent years rigger boots have become popular because they are easy to put on and are a cross between lace up boots and wellingtons.  However some companies have found that wearers of rigger boots are much more likely to suffer twisted or sprained ankle injuries. They think this is because rigger boots are a looser fit and the wearer is less able to prevent the foot from twisting to the side on uneven ground. This is the reason that some contractors will not allow them on site. This is an acceptable argument and you need to understand and comply with this rule.

Lace up boots are not normally suitable for licensed asbestos work within an enclosure.

There is a history of cement burns where cement has gone into the safety shoe or boots and wellington boots may provide more protection for groundwork using cement.

When must high-visibility clothing be worn?

If a construction site has a high-visibility policy then you must follow it.  Your employer will provide the equipment and you do not have to pay for it (so long as you look after it and make it last a reasonable time). 

High-visibility clothing should be worn in all construction locations where vehicles or plant are operating. This includes drivers when they leave their vehicle.  For routine site use it is often sufficient for a tabard (sleeveless top) to be worn. 

Some construction operations - for example temporary traffic management workers need a higher standard of high-visibility. This is because public vehicles are moving nearby at higher speed than most construction plant, meaning that drivers need to see hazards from further away to give them time to react.  Because of this the requirement includes high-visibility long sleeved jacket and high-visibility trousers. 

For more information on the standards that apply to high-vis clothing see the Workplace transport factsheet on clothing.

2015-10-06