Personal protect equipment (PPE) is anything workers use or wear to reduce risks to their health and safety. PPE such as face masks, gloves, eye protection and face shields can be used to protect against COVID-19.
What PPE is required at your workplace will depend on the type of work you do, risk assessments conducted by your employer and any state or territory requirements. Any changes to PPE requirements must also be made in consultation with workers.
When using PPE to prevent the spread or contracting COVID 19, the personal protective equipment must be:
- clean and hygienic and in good working order
- suitable to minimise risks COVID-19, with regard to the nature of the work and any hazard associated with the work; and
- a suitable size and fit and reasonably comfortable for the worker who is to use or wear it; and
- maintained, repaired or replaced so that it continues to minimise risk to the worker who uses it
Below are some frequently asked questions about PPE, but every workplace is different. Contact your union or the Australian Unions Support Centre if you have more questions about keeping safe at work.
Do I have to wear a mask at work?
All workers in Australia have the legal right to a healthy and safe workplace but the most recent outbreaks of COVID-19 have revealed an alarming rate of coronavirus transmission at work.
Masks are a type of PPE that can form an essential part in reducing the risks of COVID transmission at work.
As part of a COVID risk control plan, your boss may request you wear a mask, even if there is no direction from your relevant health department to do so. But just like any other change related to health and safety, they must first consult with workers. If there is a public health directive to wear masks, then you must do so unless you have a medical exemption.
Likewise, if you believe there are risks of COVID transmission at your work, you can raise your concerns with your health and safety representative or directly with management.
Consultation about masks should include discussions around how the masks will be provided and how workers will be trained on the proper use of them. It’s important that people who can’t wear a mask for medical reasons are also considered in any plans to introduce masks to the workplace.
If you have concerns about the risks of COVID or the use of masks at your workplace, talk to your health and safety representative or contact the Australian Worker Support Centre for more information.
What type of mask should I wear at work?
The type of mask needed at work depends on where you work and any safety risks from the type of work you do.
Given the increase in the latest highly infectious variant of Omicron, the use of P2/N95 masks is strong encouraged for indoor spaces where ventilation may be poor e.g. lifts, stairwells, public transport. These masks are in high demand leading to some fake equipment entering the market. If you are required to wear a P2/N95 mask, make sure it meets Australian safety standards.
Masks of all types reduce the risk of transmission but the best ones are P2/N95 masks followed by surgical masks.
Ask your health and safety representative if you are unsure what is the safest mask for your work or check with your union.
How do I wear a mask safely?
Under workplace law, workers who use PPE (including masks) must be given training on the proper use and wearing of it, and how to store and maintain it.
If you do wear a mask at work, it is important that it is used correctly to help reduce the risk of COVID transmission. This includes:
- Washing or sanitising your hands before putting it on or taking it off
- Making sure the mask covers your nose and mouth and fits snugly under your chin, over the bridge of your nose and against the sides of your face
- Not touching the front of your mask while wearing or removing it
- Not reusing single-use masks and disposing of them in a safe and concealed bin or designated location immediately after use
- Washing and drying reusable masks
Do I have to provide my own PPE at work?
Under workplace law, employers are responsible for providing any required PPE at no cost to the worker. So, if face coverings are required in your workplace, your employer must provide them. If they don’t, they are breaking the law.
Your union can support you if you have concerns about the supply of masks at your workplace. Contact the Australian Worker Support Centre for advice.
Funding for this factsheet was provided by:
- the Victorian Government as part of the uTech project; and
- the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Please note that the information given here is general information only and is not legal advice. For further assistance, it is recommended you speak to your union.