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PPE refers to anything used or worn to minimise risk to workers' health and safety. This may include, but is not limited to:

  • boots
  • ear plugs
  • face masks
  • gloves
  • goggles
  • hard hats
  • high visibility clothing
  • respirators
  • safety harnesses
  • safety shoes
  • sunscreen.

Risk management

In certain circumstances, the model WHS Regulations require businesses to work through a hierarchy of risk control measures when managing risk. Under the hierarchy, using PPE is ranked as one of the least effective safety control measures, that is a level 3 control measure. 

  • Level 3 control measures do not control the hazard at the source. They rely on human behaviour and supervision and used on their own tend to be least effective in minimising risks. Workplaces must not rely on PPE to satisfy their hazard control requirements.

PPE should only be used:

  • as a last resort
  • as an interim measure
  • as a back-up.

PPE works best when you use it to supplement higher-level control measures or when no other safety measures are available. Before relying on PPE you need to do a risk assessment to see what other controls can and should be used.

Work health and safety duties

Under the model WHS laws, PCBUs must put control measures in place if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate a health and safety risk in the workplace. Control measures may include PPE as an interim or last resort or as back-up.

Where PPE is to be used it must be:

  • Selected to minimise risk to health and safety, including by ensuring equipment is:
    • suitable for the nature of the work or hazard
    • a suitable size and fit for the individual who is required to use it and that it is reasonably comfortable.
  • Maintained, repaired or replaced, which includes ensuring the equipment is:
    • clean and hygienic
    • in good working order.
  • Used or worn by the worker, so far as is reasonably practical.

A PCBU must:

  • consult with their workers when selecting PPE
  • ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that the PPE is used or worn by the worker
  • provide the worker with information, training and instruction in the proper use and wearing of PPE and its storage and maintenance.

PPE must be provided by a PCBU unless it has already been provided by another one. For example a business may not need to provide PPE if the worker’s labour hire company provided them with it.

The legal requirements of businesses in relation to PPE are set out in regulations 36, 44 and 45 of the model WHS Regulations.

Worker responsibilities

Workers also have duties in relation to PPE under regulation 46 of the model WHS Regulations. A worker who is provided with PPE by their business must:

  • Use or wear the PPE in accordance with any information, training or reasonable instruction provided by the PCBU, so far as they are reasonably able.
  • Not intentionally misuse or damage the PPE.
  • Inform the business of any damage, defect or need to clean or decontaminate any of the PPE if they become aware of it.

If the PPE is uncomfortable, does not fit properly or the worker has an adverse reaction using it, they should consult their manager.

If a worker refuses to wear or use the PPE, the business can take action against the worker. A worker who does not wear or use PPE, or intentionally misuses or damages it, may face disciplinary action or even prosecution.

Duties of those who are not workers 

Under regulation 47 of the model WHS Regulations, a person other than a worker is also required to wear any PPE that is required to be worn at that workplace. The PPE must be worn in accordance with any information, training or reasonable instruction provided by the PCBU.

Frequently asked questions

Do PCBUs need to cover the cost of uniforms or regular shoes?

Generally, no. The requirements to provide and pay for clothing and equipment under the model WHS Laws only apply to items that are PPE. A worker’s regular clothing such as pants or jeans that are worn in a factory environment are not generally considered PPE. However some protective clothing and equipment will be such as boots, safety shoes and high visibility clothing. Businesses should check to see whether they are required to cover the cost of the clothing or protective equipment under the model WHS Laws.

Where a PCBU is required to cover the cost of clothing or equipment because it is PPE, it is an offence for them to charge or levy a worker, or cause a worker to be charged for these items. Workplace relations laws also prohibit unauthorised deductions from an employee’s wage for work-related items such as PPE.

What things need to be considered when choosing the right PPE for the job?

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.

PCBUs are required to consult, as far as is reasonably practicable, with workers who are likely to be directly affected by a matter relating to WHS. If the PCBU and workers have agreed to procedures for consultation, the consultation must be in accordance with those.

Consistent with this duty, a PCBU should:

  • Consult with users and their representatives and include a detailed evaluation of the risk and performance requirements for the PPE.
  • Ensure compatibility of all PPE items where more than one type is required (for example ear muffs with a hard hat).
  • Consult with the supplier to make sure all PPE is suitable for the work and workplace conditions.

For further guidance on consultation see the model Code of Practice—How to Consult, Co-operate and Co-ordinate Activities with Other Duty Holders.

When choosing PPE, PCBUs must ensure all other control measures to reduce risk in the workplace have been applied.

PCBUs must also ensure the PPE complies with the relevant Australian Standard or equivalent standard.

What is the role of the PCBU when workers are using PPE?

PCBUs must ensure PPE is used and worn by the worker, so far as is reasonably practicable and is maintained, repaired or replaced to minimise risk to the worker who uses it. PCBUs must also provide the worker with information, training and instruction in the use, maintenance and storage of PPE.

PCBUs should ensure PPE:

  • is used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions
  • does not interfere with any medical conditions of the worker using it
  • appropriate signs are used to remind workers where it must be worn
  • is periodically assessed to ensure it is and continues to be effective.

What are the maintenance requirements for PPE?

To ensure PPE continues to minimise any potential risk for the worker, PPE must be maintained, repaired or replaced and stored correctly. This includes making sure it is clean, hygienic and in good working order.

What are ways to manage problems that may arise when using PPE?

Using PPE may, in some circumstances, give rise to problems that, without proper management, could become a health and safety risk. For example:

  • Wearing PPE may adversely affect how well tasks can be performed—PPE can restrict vision or mobility.
  • It may be uncomfortable to wear and some workers may not be able to wear the recommended PPE at all due to sensitivities, such as workers who are allergic to latex cannot wear certain kinds of rubber gloves.
  • It may create new hazards through its use—some items might hinder the body’s natural cooling mechanisms by preventing evaporation of perspiration.

Under such circumstances, the duty holder will still be required to discharge their duties under the model WHS Laws.

Where problems are identified with the suitability, fit and conformableness of the PPE, the PCBU must work with the wearer to resolve the issue. They must do this in order to comply with the requirement to ensure the PPE is a suitable size and fit and that it is reasonably comfortable for that wearer.

Ongoing monitoring is required to make sure the PPE is being used and stored correctly.

While monitoring the use of the PPE can be time consuming, the PCBU is under an obligation to do so, so far as is reasonably practicable. Monitoring also assists a PCBU to meet its duty to ensure PPE is appropriately maintained, repaired or replaced.

The level of monitoring needed will depend on the level of risk and the experience of the workers involved.

Can a duty holder provide a PPE equipment allowance instead of purchasing the required items?

Yes. PCBUs can provide a PPE allowance, provided it covers the cost of the PPE required under WHS laws. The PCBU would still need to ensure the chosen PPE is:

  • 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.

If a PCBU merely provides an allowance for purchasing PPE, but has not carried out any assessments to ensure it is suitable, they may not have fulfilled their duties in relation to PPE.

Further advice

SWA is not a regulator and cannot advise you about PPE. If you need help, please contact your state or territory work health and safety authority.

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Last modified on Friday 17 March 2017 [1451|28891]