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WHS Regulations and PCBU

The Work, Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations

The Work, Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations include specific requirements if PPE is to be used at the workplace, including that the equipment is:

  • Selected to minimise risk to 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
  • Maintained, repaired or replaced so it continues to minimise the risk
  • Used or worn by the worker, so far as is reasonably practicable
  • A worker must, so far as is reasonably able, wear the PPE in accordance with any information, training or reasonable instruction.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) refers to anything used or worn to minimise risk to workers’ health and safety. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is clothing or equipment designed to be worn by someone to protect them from the risk of injury or illness.

Some examples of PPE may include:

  • Hearing protective devices, such as ear muffs and ear plugs
  • Respiratory protective equipment
  • Eye and face protection, such as safety glasses and face shields
  • Safety helmets
  • Fall arrest harnesses for working at heights
  • Skin protection, such as gloves, gauntlets and sunscreen
  • Clothing, such as high visibility vests, life jackets and coveralls
  • Footwear, such as safety boots and rubber boots

Safety goggles

Safety goggles for trades such as welders, lab workers, and other persons who work in hazardous environments can be thankful for safety goggles for protecting their eyesight. While eyewear used to magnify poor sight has been around for centuries, the real safety breakthrough came when the African- American inventor Powell Johnson patented (US Pat #234,039) his ‘eye protectors in 1880. During the 20th century, demand increased for highquality eye protection, as individuals in various industries found a need for such gear. This led to further refinements of the basic design. For example a case study involved in 1913 – America Steel Foundries prepared charts showing 110 safety goggles with one or both lenses shattered. This chart showed that in two year’s eye accidents had been reduced by 75%. From then the adaptation of safety goggles and general safety eyewear’s are capable of performing a number of valuable functions, including protecting the eyes from UV rays, chemicals, and other hazards, as well as enhancing the sight.

Coveralls

Coveralls are a category of workwear helps ensure the safety of personnel by providing a continuous clothing surface that keeps out many types of hazardous materials, such as molds, and/or minerals, such as asbestos; it can also protect the worker against the damaging effects of excessively high (or low) temperatures. This clothing tends to be made from highly dense yet flexible materials that keep hazards out while allowing the worker full freedom of movement.

In the 19th century, firefighters began using special protective clothing intended to shield them from the various dangers associated with the profession. At first, wool uniforms were used to supply a degree of protection from severe heat conditions. For firefighters, progress was slow; it wasn’t until the post- WWII years that their uniforms began to be standardised and subject to rigorous safety standards. While the firefighting profession went through these changes, other industries began to see the need for similar protective clothing. This led to the development of protective coveralls, which today come in many varieties to accommodate the needs of different industries.

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PCBU: Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking

Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) are required to provide and pay for clothing and equipment which apply specifically 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.

In consideration for the wearing the correct PPE, it must be appropriate; as well as fit for purpose. This specifically must relate to the task at hand, and align with the methodology written in the safe work method statement.

This is aligned to ensure the PPE being worn is:

  • 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

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 standards. 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.

The maintenance requirements for PPE includes that the 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. Conversely, 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.

Monitoring

Furthermore, 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.

A duty holder may provide a PPE equipment allowance instead of purchasing the required items, 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.

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, which are 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.

The PCBUs shall ensure a risk management approach applying the hierarchy of risk control, where PPE is the last line of defence:

  • 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

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

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 the hazard present
  • 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.

Worker responsibilities

Workers also have duties in relation to PPE where, 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 provided
  • Inform the business of any damage, defect or need to clean or decontaminate any of the PPE if they become aware of any issues
  • Check the PPE is a suitable size and fit for each worker; for example, respiratory protective equipment requires a good facial seal
  • If PPE is comfortable to wear and workers are involved in choosing it, they will be more likely to use it
  • Individual circumstances of workers may affect choice; for example, the wearing of prescription glasses, and allergic reactions such as to latex, as well as some medical conditions
  • Consider workers’ medical conditions, which can influence whether they can use certain items of equipment

For the specified work task, consideration must match the PPE to the hazard, remembering that a work task may expose workers to more than one hazard. For example, welders may need protection from harmful welding gases and fumes, as well as ultraviolet radiation, hot metal and sparks. Also, take into consideration how the work is carried out and the level of risk to the worker. A more protective respirator may need to worn where the level of air contamination is very high.

How long the PPE will need to be worn must also be considered, factoring in the demands of the work activity, including the level of physical activity or dexterity required. Furthermore, PPE that is to be worn at the same time can be used together. Contrariwise, if the PPE is uncomfortable, and 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.

Other expected duty of care responsibilities other than a worker (direct employee or sub-contractor), such as volunteers, 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.

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Mark Da Silva is Director of Work, Health and Safety Programmes at WorkSafe Victoria. As the Director of Programmes his remit includes leading and facilitating the delivery of the strategic health and safety improvement programmes; aimed at reducing injury, il...
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