2 min read

Can you ‘force’ a worker to wear PPE?

By Jeff Salton

Have you heard the line that goes: “I’ve been doing this job for 30 years without (insert PPE item here) and never been hurt, why do I have to wear (item) now?

What do you do when a worker refuses to wear PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) or only wears it ‘when they feel like it’? What are your obligations and legal responsibilities to your workers in this situation if someone does get injured?

If your risk assessment of the task or the work situation determines that PPE is a requirement for worker safety, then workers need to be provided with the appropriate PPE and trained in its proper use and application.

A Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) should be created for the task, which includes instructions for workers that they ‘MUST’ or it is ‘ESSENTIAL’ to wear PPE. All employees should be given the SWMS to read and sign or agree to.

It is also a good idea to have visual reminders in the workplace in the form of signs or posters reminding workers that wearing their PPE is NOT optional.

What if a worker ignores this command and gets injured?

The extent to which an employer (including supervisors) will be liable in such a circumstance will depend upon whether they were aware of the worker not wearing the PPE.

By way of example, in Barbosa v McDonald’s Australia Limited (2003), an employee suffered serious burns when emptying hot oil at a McDonald’s restaurant. While McDonald’s provided gloves, a face shield and an apron for carrying out the task, the employee was not wearing them when the accident occurred.

However, the supervisor in charge at the time was aware that the employee was not wearing the protective clothing. McDonald’s was therefore found to be in breach of health and safety duties due to a number of failures, including failing to ensure a safe system of work and failing to ensure the use of PPE, and was fined $75,075.

If a worker refuses to wear PPE or repeatedly needs to be reminded, some form of disciplinary action may need to be taken against that worker because if employers have instructed the worker to wear their PPE, or have provided written notice directing the worker to wear the PPE, workers do not have the right to refuse a lawful and reasonable direction from their employer.

Avoiding conflict with workers

Are you or your managers equipped to deal with strong-willed workers who ‘know better’ or struggle to take direction from management? Maybe there are other forms of conflict in your workplace? Conflict can take many guises and have a widespread impact on your business.

Psychosocial risks are among the most challenging issues in occupational health and safety. They impact significantly on the wellbeing of individuals and can have significant implications for the health and success of whole organisations.

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