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The Journal for Employee Protection
The Journal for Employee Protection
by Mark Da Silva
The Work, Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations include specific requirements if PPE is to be used at the workplace, including that the equipment is:
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:
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 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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
PPE should only be used:
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.
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:
A PCBU must:
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.
Workers also have duties in relation to PPE where, a worker who is provided with PPE by their business must:
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.
Mark Da Silva
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, illness and fatalities in Victoria workplaces.
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