A growing number of employers are illegally charging catering staff for protective clothing and safety shoes, according to the Health & Safety Executive. The HSE has issued an urgent statement reminding licensees and catering operators that they are obliged to provide staff with all personal safety equipment. It claims staff are making an increasing number of complaints that they have been forced to pay for slip-resistant and protective shoes when starting work in catering kitchens. "Recent reports from workers and unions indicate that some employers providing safety shoes and other items of protective equipment are classing them as part of the uniform and charging workers. "Regrettably we have received similar reports regularly over the years, but catering employers must understand that the practice of charging in this way is illegal," said HSE principal inspector Percy Smith. Slips and slides and scalding incidents form a high percentage of accidents in commercial kitchens. The HSE says injuries from slipping is higher in the catering sector than most other industries and employers need to work hard to minimise such accidents. "The avoidance of spills and leaks on the floor through immediate cleaning and non-slip surfaces are key steps to achieve a high degree of control. Each case must be considered on its merits, but sometimes slip-resistant shoes will be necessary to adequately control the risk. When this is the case, shoes will be personal protective equipment and must be supplied free," Smith added. One licensee, David Heyes of the Garsdale Inn, Brandlesholme, Bury, said he provided uniforms and equipment to staff free of charge. "We have a duty of care towards our staff and it is routine due diligence to protect them from risk of accidents in the kitchen. We insist on closed-toe shoes for all staff in the kitchen to protect against spills and scalding incidents. "If a new member of staff does not have suitable footwear we ask them to go out and buy a pair of shoes and we meet the bill," he said. Leslie Mitchell of the Malt Shovel, Brearton, north Yorkshire, said he provided all necessary equipment for staff to carry out their job. "It is common sense for us to ensure staff work in a safe environment and are not put at risk," he said.