More than one in five workers are being forced to pay for personal protective equipment (PPE) out of their own pocket – even though employers are required to provide such items for staff free of charge.

This is the key finding from an online TUC survey, which was answered by more than 2500 users of PPE earlier this year.

The HSE defines PPE as “all equipment (including clothing affording protection against the weather) that is intended to be worn, or held by a person at work, and which protects against one or more risks to their health or safety – e.g. safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear and safety harnesses”. By law, all PPE required to protect a worker must be provided free of charge by employers.

More than one in 10 (11.6 per cent) of those who responded to the TUC questionnaire said that, although their work required them to wear safety equipment of some kind, their employer failed to provide, or pay for it. A further 8.9 per cent were made to pay for any replacement equipment if their original PPE was damaged. In total, more than 20 per cent of survey respondents said they had to pay for providing or replacing all or some of the equipment they needed for their work.

Women workers were even less likely than men to have their safety equipment provided, with more than 15 per cent having to provide all or some of their own attire – usually foot protection, or overalls – compared with 10.5 per cent of men.

The survey responses also revealed that, even where the employer provided PPE, workers usually had to clean the equipment themselves, or pay for it to be cleaned. Of those whose equipment needed cleaning, 60 per cent stated that their employer made no arrangements for providing, or paying for cleaning. By law, employers must ensure that any PPE provided for their employees is maintained in a good condition.

Commenting on the findings, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “Far too many workers are being forced to provide their own safety protection – whether footwear, boiler suits, overalls, or gloves – and this abuse is widespread across industries ranging from construction to catering. Even when equipment is provided, it is often expected that the worker cleans it, or replaces it if damaged.”

He continued: “Safety equipment is needed to ensure that workers are protected from injury or disease, yet there appears to be very little enforcement of the law. As a result, many workers – often those in low-paid service jobs like catering and cleaning – are having to fork out from their own pocket, or go without. This must stop. With the Government’s cutback of proactive inspections in the workplace, this abuse can only grow.”