Personal protective equipment (PPE) refers to anything used or worn to minimise risk to worker health and safety. PPE can be used to supplement the other control measures put in place at your workplace to protect against COVID-19. Your employer must apply a range of control measures in your workplace, such as good hygiene measures, physical distancing, environmental cleaning and providing workers with information and training. They cannot only use PPE.
Common PPE that can be used to protect against COVID-19 include:
- eye protection, and
The type of PPE your employer might provide will depend on your workplace and the outcomes of their risk assessment and consultation.
The use of some types of masks, gowns and disposable suits is restricted to health care settings. It is not recommended that these types of PPE are used outside of health care to protect against COVID-19. More information about using these PPE in health care can be found on the Australian Government Department of Health website.
Face masks and other appropriate PPE may need to be provided where other control measures have been fully considered and implemented or are impractical. For example, some work areas (e.g. kill/slaughter floor areas) in old or poorly designed workplaces may, in the short term, not enable physical distancing and appropriate barriers to prevent transmission (such as from coughing and sneezing).
Some states and territories have issued directions about wearing face masks in public and other specific settings. This is based on the local situation. It is important that you keep up to date with recommendations and directions about the wearing of PPE that apply nationally, and in your state or territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace.
The Victorian Government has introduced specific requirements for the wearing of PPE in the manufacturing sector, including meat and poultry processing facilities. Refer to Business Victoria for further information.
Refer to our specific information on masks.
Refer to our specific information on gloves.
Eye protection, in the form of safety glasses, goggles or a face shield, can be used as PPE for protecting against the risks of COVID-19.
Eye protection can assist to act as a physical barrier from droplet spray and prevent unintentional rubbing of eyes between hand washing. Eye protection may be necessary for workers who are in close proximity to droplet spray, for example health workers, police, corrections and security work. However, for many workplaces, eye protection will not be a required control measure.
Good hygiene practices should be followed if eye protection is used. Protective eyewear that is reusable must be appropriately cleaned and disinfected after each use. See also our information on hygiene.
More information about using eye protection in health care settings can be found on the Australian Government Department of Health website.
While gloves should be used for some work practices, washing hands with soap and water is one of the best defences to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Where gloves are used as part of standard workplace procedures, workers should wash their hands before putting on and after removing gloves.
If gloves are not used appropriately, they can pose a risk of spreading germs, putting yourself and others at risk. When a you wear gloves, you may come into contact with germs which are then transferred to other objects or your face if you don’t replace and dispose of (or clean your gloves if multi-use) between tasks. Gloves are not a substitute for frequent hand washing.
Disposable gloves should be replaced regularly and they should not be reused.
Multi-use gloves should be washed and stored according to the manufacturer’s instructions or workplace policy. Where possible, gloves should not be shared between workers.
See our guidance on gloves for more information.
Workers in food processing and manufacturing facilities often need to use other forms of PPE, such as protective clothing, as part of their work practices. Where this occurs:
- PPE should not be shared between workers (for example coats or boots) where possible.
- PPE should be stored in a way that reduces interaction between workers or the potential for workers to touch other people’s PPE, for example coats could be stored on the back of a worker’s chair rather than on a coat rack.
Does my employer need to provide me with PPE?
Your employer must provide you with appropriate PPE, and information and training on how and why you are required to use it. Depending on your workplace (type of work, the workers and others who come into the workplace), PPE can include gloves, eye protection and face masks.
PPE used at a workplace must be:
- selected to minimise risk to work health and safety
- suitable for the nature of the work and any hazard associated with the work
- a suitable size and fit and reasonably comfortable for the person wearing it.
Some states and territories have issued directions about wearing face masks in public and other specific settings. This is based on the local situation. It is important that your employer keeps up to date with recommendations and directions about the wearing of PPE that apply nationally, and in your state or territory, and ensures that these are followed at your workplace.
The Victorian Government has introduced specific requirements for the food processing sector, including meat and poultry processing facilities. Refer to Business Victoria for further information.
PPE alone will not protect you from the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Your employer must consider a range of control measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, including good hygiene measures, physical distancing (keeping everyone at the workplace at least 1.5 metres physically apart), cleaning and disinfecting and providing workers with information and training.
For further information about PPE go to the personal protective equipment webpage.
Does my employer need to consult me about PPE?
Yes. Your employer must consult with you about the possible control measures they will put in place in response to the risks of COVID-19. Following consultation, if your employer chooses to provide you with PPE, they must provide you with appropriate information, instruction and training on its use. This includes how to wear the PPE safely and correctly, how to store the items safely, how to dispose of single-use items and how to clean re-usable items.
Information on how to dispose of PPE can be found below. Information on cleaning reusable PPE can be found in our cleaning guide.
See our guidance on consultation for more information.
How do I dispose of PPE?
Unless contaminated, disposable PPE can be disposed of with the general waste, preferably a closed bin. A closed bin is a bin with a fitted lid.
Where the PPE is contaminated it should be disposed of in a closed bin, preferably one that does not need to be touched to place contaminated PPE inside. A bin with a foot pedal or other hands-free mechanism to open the lid would be appropriate.
The bin for contaminated PPE should contain two bin liners to ensure the waste is double bagged. Double bagging minimises any exposure to the person disposing of the waste.
PPE would be considered contaminated if:
- it has been worn by a symptomatic worker or visitor to the workplace
- it has been worn by a close contact of a confirmed COVID case
- the PPE has been in contact with a potentially contaminated surface, or
- it is visibly soiled or damp (e.g. face masks).
Where a closed bin is not available, the contaminated PPE should be placed in a sealed bag before disposal into the bin. The sealed bag and a single bin liner are considered equivalent to double bagging.
It is important to follow good hand hygiene after removing and disposing of your PPE. Hands should be cleaned thoroughly with soap and water (for a minimum of 20 seconds) or hand sanitiser.
If there is a case of COVID-19 in the workplace, your state or territory health authority should provide your employer with advice and instructions on what needs to be done in your workplace.
For information about the disposal of PPE in health care settings, you will need to refer to the Australian Government Department of Health and state and territory health authorities.
Does my employer need to install a screen in my workplace?
Perspex screens (also known as sneeze guards) may be beneficial where workers are in close proximity for long periods. For example, where two workers work side by side or back to back for a shift. The current Australian Government advice is that it is not necessary to install a screen between workers and the public (customers) as the interaction time between them is shorter. However, many businesses have chosen to protect workers by installing these screens including retail stores, pharmacies and doctor’s surgeries.
Whether a perspex screen should be installed in your workplace must be determined on a case by case basis. You should speak with your employer or health and safety representative if you think a screen should be installed in your workplace.