Agencies face accusations of defying PPE rules
Construction workers’ union UCATT believes some employment agencies are deliberately flouting safety regulations by failing to provide PPE for those workers they place in jobs.
The union has become embroiled in a spat with the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) – the trade association for employment agencies – after it raised its concerns on 16 March at a meeting of CONIAC, the HSE’s Construction Industry Advisory Committee.
The PPE at Work Regulations 1992 state: “Every employer shall ensure that suitable PPE is provided for his employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health and 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.”
They also state that an employer cannot ask an employee for money for PPE, whether it is returnable or not.
UCATT executive council member, Dennis Doody, said: “Increasingly, UCATT officials are finding that agencies are forcing workers to supply their own PPE. This is against safety regulations and, given growing concerns about fake and counterfeit PPE being available in the construction industry, places already vulnerable workers at greater risk of injury.”
Several agencies are on UCATT’s radar for undertaking such practices, but the union has also alleged that the agency run by the chair of REC construction group has posted jobs on its website advertising for applicants to have PPE.
Strongly refuting UCATT’s claims, REC’s director of policy and professional services, Tom Hadley, said: “Claims made by UCATT seem to have missed the point that many people working in construction are self-employed and, under the current regulations, would be expected to provide their own PPE along with the tools of their trade. In a demand-led industry like construction, being self-employed, for the vast majority of the workforce, is a matter of choice.”
Whether a court would determine the worker to be self-employed or an employee of the agency could depend on the specific contractual terms of the worker concerned. But a UCATT spokesperson described it as “shameful” to try to claim that workers, many of whom are low-paid labourers, are self-employed, suggesting that, in many ways, they pass the test of employee.
The union is also concerned that by demanding that job applicants have their own PPE, it opens up the potential that workers will obtain cheap counterfeit PPE that won’t provide the necessary level of protection.
The HSE has pledged to investigate the union’s claims. Philip White, chief inspector of construction, said: “UCATT raised two main issues concerning PPE at HSE’s CONAIC meeting on 16 March. Their first issue alleged employed workers were being asked to provide their own PPE, or pay a charge to their employment agency. We have asked UCATT to forward us their evidence so it can be studied and appropriate action be taken.
“The second issue concerned counterfeit PPE. HSE has no evidence of counterfeit PPE being supplied to construction sites, but we have asked industry to be vigilant and if workers do have concerns they should raise them with their employer or local trading-standards officers, who have regulatory responsibility for counterfeit goods.”
Accepting that examples of bad practice do exist in the recruitment sector, Tom Hadley said the REC’s membership of CONIAC is an example of the trade organisation’s commitment “to help eliminate these poor practices”.
Added Hadley: “We welcome complaints from workers and employers through our complaints procedure if they are concerned about the actions of any REC members. These issues are investigated and action taken if we believe that our Code of Professional Conduct has been broken.”
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