There is a difference between personal protective equipment (PPE) required under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA), and PPE recommended or required in public health guidance about COVID-19.
PPE required under HSWA
For some types of work PPE, such as disposable respirators, coveralls and gloves, is required under HSWA to minimise risks to the person’s health and safety. PPE is also an essential part of work health and safety risk management in areas such as healthcare.
If you were required to use specific PPE for work prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, you must continue to use that PPE. You cannot substitute PPE required under HSWA with other forms of PPE. For example, if you are required to use a respirator for certain work tasks don’t substitute the respirator with a fabric face covering when you’re carrying out those tasks.
The pandemic has created supply issues for some types of PPE. We have more information about how to manage this on our managing supply issues for PPE page.
PPE recommended by public health guidance to stop the spread of COVID-19
The pandemic has meant that PPE is also being used in a number of new settings as a way to stop people spreading illness to others. This includes:
- business and services using PPE to manage the risk of COVID-19 transmission, and
- people using face coverings for everyday activities when outside their home.
Using PPE in both settings supports the public health response to COVID-19, but isn’t required under HSWA.
Using PPE at work to manage the risk of COVID-19 transmission
At all Alert Levels businesses and services need to manage the risk of COVID-19 spreading at work. To support this, businesses and services may ask workers to use PPE such as face masks, face shields or disposable gloves to help stop the spread of COVID-19. This PPE doesn’t need to meet any industry-specific standards required under HSWA because it’s only intended to prevent people spreading illness to others.
Face coverings, specifically, are strongly encouraged for workers who have close contact with customers or clients, like hairdressers and home carers. See Unite Against COVID-19(external link) for more information about face coverings for close contact workers.
We recommend workers and their representatives raise any concerns they have about working safely during the pandemic with their manager.
The only situation in which a face covering is a mandatory public health requirement is on public transport. This requirement applies across Alert Levels 2 – 4. Public transport providers must ensure all workers driving or operating a public transport vehicle are wearing face coverings.
Public health guidance recommends that, from Alert Level 2 upward, people should use face coverings in some public spaces. Where and when you should use them depends on your region’s Alert Level. You can find out more at Unite Against COVID-19(external link).
In these situations, face coverings don’t need to meet any industry-specific standards.