Safe@Work COVID-19 Provision of PPE
This information is designed to give HSR’s, Delegates and Members, a brief outline of duties and rights in relation to this health and safety risk in the workplace.
For further information, support and advice contact CPSU.
Under the OHS Act, employers are required to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect the health and safety at work of their employees.
This includes the provision of suitable PPE.
The flow-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic means there is a global shortage of:
- disposable respirators
- surgical and procedural masks
- respirator filters
- disposable coveralls
- disposable gloves
- goggles and safety glasses
- face shields.
Supply issues are predicted to continue for the foreseeable future.
To manage the demand, suppliers may be prioritising supply of specific types of PPE to emergency services and healthcare providers.
Employer’s may find that their usual PPE is no longer available from their supplier.
Some work activities require use of PPE in addition to other controls.
Employer’s in this situation should have a plan to manage the PPE shortage.
CPSU expects all Employer’s to continue protecting Employees and others from harm to their health, safety, and welfare by eliminating or minimising risks arising from work.
When PPE is not available Employer’s should reassess the controls in place and look at whether there are other reasonably practicable controls available.
If Employer’s run out of essential PPE they may need to stop specific work activities until supplies become available.
Employers must consult with Health and Safety Representatives (HSR’s) and Employees on emerging health and safety issues.
Managing the PPE shortage
PPE is an essential part of work health and safety risk management for some types of work. Employer’s should have a plan to manage the PPE shortage.
For disposable PPE this may include:
- seeking advice from an occupational hygienist or other expert about alternatives to the PPE that’s usually used
- taking the opportunity to reassess controls and look at whether there are other reasonably practicable controls that don’t rely on PPE
- considering whether reusable respirators with replaceable filters or powered air-purifying respirators should be used
- using coveralls that can be laundered or decontaminated rather than disposable coveralls, if appropriate.
If Employees have to use new types of PPE or different brands Employer’s must make sure it is:
- suitable for the nature of the work and any risks associated with the work
- a suitable size and fit and reasonably comfortable (eg does the worker wear prescription glasses, have facial hair or other features that could affect how well PPE fits? Has the new PPE been fit tested?)
- compatible with any other PPE the worker is required to wear or use
- compliant with any industry-specific requirements or standards.
If Employer’s can’t find appropriate alternatives to their current PPE for a work activity they may need to stop the activity until the appropriate PPE is available.
Remember, PPE should always be the last resort when providing protection from harm for Employees.
More effective controls should be used first, in this order:
2. minimisation – substitution, isolation and engineering controls,
3. if a risk remains – administrative controls,
4. if a risk still remains – PPE.