Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is any clothing or equipment a worker uses or wears to minimise health and safety risks. PPE includes items such as:
- ear plugs
- respiratory protective equipment (RPE)
- hard hats
- high visibility clothing
- safety harnesses
- safety shoes
Where it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate a health and safety risk in the workplace, control measures must be put in place. While PPE can be useful, it is one of the least effective safety control measures and must not be relied on to satisfy hazard control requirements.
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, conduct a risk assessment to see what higher-level control measures are available.
Only use PPE as:
- last resort
- an interim measure
- a supplement to other control measures.
Before choosing PPE you must apply all other control measures to reduce risk in the workplace. Consult with the supplier to make sure all PPE is suitable for the type of work and workplace conditions.
Use appropriate signage to remind workers to wear their PPE.
PPE must be:
- selected to minimise risk to work health and safety (consult relevant Australian Standard)
- suitable for the nature of the work and any hazard associated with the work (consult relevant Australian Standard)
- a suitable size and fit and reasonably comfortable for the person wearing it
- any issues must be resolved appropriately in order for you to fulfil your legislative responsibilities
- maintained in good working order
- repaired or replaced, if required
- clean and hygienic
- used or worn by the worker as intended
- stored appropriately.
- consult with users (workers) and their representatives
- conduct 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)
- provide users with information, training and instruction in the use, maintenance and storage of PPE
- regularly re-evaluate the effectiveness of the footwear against the hazards encountered at the workplace.
PCBUs should ensure PPE:
- is used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions
- complies with the relevant Australian Standard or equivalent standard
- does not interfere with any medical conditions of the worker using it
- is periodically assessed to ensure it is and continues to be effective.
PCBUs must regularly monitor PPE to make sure it is being used and stored correctly. The level of monitoring needed will depend on the level of risk and the experience of the workers involved.
If a worker refuses to wear or use the PPE, the business can take action against the worker.
The PCBU is responsible for:
- providing a worker with PPE unless it has already 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
- covering the costs of all PPE
- you must not charge, levy or deduct from an employee's wage any costs associated with the supply and maintenance of PPE
- you may provide a PPE allowance, as long as it covers the cost of all required PPE
- ensuring all PPE (including PPE purchased by a worker through a PPE allowance) meets the standards required under the law and 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.
PCBUs are not required to cover costs of clothing, shoes and equipment not considered as PPE.
If your employer provides you with PPE you must:
- use or wear it in accordance with any information, training and instruction in the use, maintenance and storage
- not intentionally misuse or damage the PPE
- inform the business of any damage, defect or need to clean or decontaminate the PPE
- inform your manager if the PPE is uncomfortable, does not fit properly or they have an adverse reaction using it
- your employer must work with you to resolve any issues relating to the suitability, fit and comfort of the PPE.
If you require PPE different to what is being provided by your employer, for example prescription safety glasses instead of over glasses or brand name safety boots, consult your employer about who will pay the difference in cost. It may also be possible to claim protective equipment as an income tax deduction.
If your employer has not supplied PPE and you believe that you would benefit from the use of PPE, speak with your manager/supervisor, health and safety representative (if you have one) or union representative (if you have one).
You can also request advice from us.
All visitors must wear any PPE required at that workplace. The PPE must be worn in accordance with any information, training or reasonable instruction provided by the PCBU.
Managing problems with PPE
Using PPE may, in some circumstances, become a health and safety risk.
- 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.
Any problems must be appropriately managed to ensure compliance with legislation.
Lifespan of PPE
Some PPE come with a manufacturer's 'use by' date, other equipment will need to be replaced based on the relevant Australian Standards. The frequency of use and type of work will affect the lifespan of the PPE.
The correct fitting of protective footwear is very important as workers are more likely to adopt a responsible attitude towards the protection of their feet.
When using extra sock liners, arch supports, orthotics and/or insoles, it is essential to wear them when selecting new footwear. Any insole added to the footwear and extends under the protective toecap may adversely affect the impact protection. Workers need to consult with their medical practitioner to ensure that the insole is required and the correct one is used.
Protective footwear should be cleaned regularly, without the use of solvents. Refer to the manufacturer's care instructions for specific details on care and storage.
There is no set lifespans for footwear as this will depend on frequency of wear, storage and condition. It is recommended that footwear worn regularly be replaced every 12 months unless signs of wear appear prior to this time. Check with the manufacturer for further details.
Footwear should be checked for any signs of damage prior to, and after, use. If there are any cracks, breaks in the leather, exposed toecaps or similar damage that reduces the protective qualities of the footwear, the footwear should be replaced. The Australian Standards state that protective footwear needs to be assessed for:
- the beginning of pronounced and deep cracking affecting half of the upper material
- strong abrasions of the upper material, especially if the toe-cap is revealed
- deformations, burns, fusion or bubble in the upper material
- split seams in the leg
- cracks greater than 10mm long and 3mm deep on the outsole
- separation of the upper and sole of more than 10-15mm long and 5mm wide/deep
- clear height in the flexing area lower than 1.5mm
- pronounced deformation and crushing to the original insock (check by inserting hand into the boot)
- faults in the fastening system (zips, laces, eyelets etc).
All used footwear that is considered unsafe needs to be destroyed. It should not be recycled for home use where a danger to feet is present (such as lawn mowing).
See Australian Standard AS 2210.3:2019 Personal protective equipment Safety footwear and Australian Standard AS 2210.1:2010 Safety, protective and occupational footwear - Guide to selection, care and use.
Hard hats / safety helmets
Safety helmets have an effective working life from the date of issue. Some safety helmets have a date of manufacture embossed on the underside of the brim. All compliant safety helmets have a label on the inside of the shell with important manufacturer warning advice and a label with space to record the date of issue.
Generally the safety helmet:
- shell has a life of around 3 years from the time of issue
- harness/headband has a life of around 2 years.
These lifespans are only a guide and may differ depending on frequency of wear, storage and condition. Helmets worn in extreme temperatures or are poorly stored such as in hot vehicles or direct sunlight may need to be replaced more frequently. Whereas infrequently used helmets stored correctly may last longer.
You should inspect all aspects of the helmet at least weekly. Look out for signs of:
- impact damage
- rough treatment
- excessive discolouration/weathering of the shell.
Immediately discard (destroy) any helmets that:
- show signs of damage or deterioration to the shell
- have been subject to significant impact even where the damage incurred is not obvious.
Helmets with sound shells but with damaged, excessively dirty, or defective harness components should be withdrawn from service and the complete harness and cradle replaced.
It is recommended that you do not wear other head gear, such as a baseball style caps, underneath a hard hat. Caps and other head gear may prevent the hard hat from sitting on the head correctly. Metal studs and buttons, often found on caps, may cause additional injury if the hard hat is struck by a falling object.
See the Australian Standard AS/NZ 1800:1998 Occupational Protective Helmets - Selection, care and use for further details.
Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012 (SA) sections 36, 44, 45, 46 and 47
A guide to buying P2, or equivalent, respirators for use in the Australian & New Zealand work environment - Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienist