Refusal to use Personal Protective Equipment

We commonly get asked – can a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) absolve itself of responsibility if a worker refuses to use personal protective equipment (PPE)?

Q: We have employed a new worker who is quite adamant that he does not want to use PPE (eg gloves). Could we put a clause in his employment contract under ‘Employee OH&S Responsibilities’ stating that if the use of PPE is not adhered to, then any injury that occurs is the fault of the employee and that our company is not responsible? We always highlight the importance of correctly using PPE in employee induction sessions.

A: The use of PPE is a control measure to address any residual risk following a risk assessment. As such, if a PCBU has identified that the PPE provided is a requirement for a particular task it must be adhered to, subject to appropriate instruction.

A PCBU’s liability and duty of care is not removed by advising a worker that non-adherence to PPE will be his/her responsibility and that the PCBU is absolved of responsibility. While workers have a duty to look after their own safety as well as the safety of others and can be in breach, the PCBU will also be liable in the event of an incident or injury.

The worker could be asked if there is any medical or alternate reason for the refusal to wear the PPE and consider alternatives accordingly. There may also be HR issues in relation to the employee following reasonable instructions which may have implications during his probationary period.

Contributor: Claire Harrison
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