This page provides information about your obligations under the model WHS laws and how these relate to the use of masks in the workplace. This information will assist you to assess whether the use of masks for your workers, including contractors and labour-hire, is a reasonably practicable control measure to manage the risks of COVID-19 at work. 

You will need to review this assessment from time to time. 

Further, the use of masks is only one control measure for COVID-19 that may be required under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws for your workplace. You must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable control measures in your workplace such as encouraging vaccination, physical distancing and good hygiene to minimise the risks from COVID-19. Further information on other control measures is provided on this page.

In addition to your obligations under the model WHS laws, you must also comply with any public health orders or directions made by governments that apply to you and your workplace. This guidance does not affect any obligations you may have regarding the use of masks that apply under public health orders and directions.

This guidance does not change, remove or reduce any existing rights or obligations under the model WHS laws.

As Victoria has not adopted the model WHS laws, this guidance is not applicable to Victoria. Up-to-date guidance applicable to responding to COVID-19 in Victorian workplaces can be found on the WorkSafe Victoria website.

Employers have a duty under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws to eliminate risks, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace so far as is reasonably practicable. The hierarchy of control measures, ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest level of protection, is one way to eliminate and minimise the risks of COVID-19. In the hierarchy of control measures, PPE are a low-level control measure as they rely on human behaviour and supervision to ensure they are appropriately worn and used to help minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace.

This information will assist you to assess whether using PPE is a reasonably practicable control measure to manage the risks of COVID-19 at your workplace. 

PPE refers to anything used or worn to minimise risk to worker health and safety. Common types of PPE that can be used to protect against COVID-19 include:  

Some states and territories have issued public health directions that require masks to be worn for specific activities and in certain workplaces. If public health directions are made, you must follow them. 

The type of PPE will depend on your type of workplace and the outcomes of your consultation with workers and your risk assessment. If PPE has been identified as a reasonably practicable control measure in your workplace, this must be provided at no cost to your workers. 

PPE can be a critical part of protecting workers against COVID-19, including when new COVID 19 variants emerge. However, even if your workers use PPE, to ensure you meet your duties under the model WHS laws and to minimise the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace, you must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures such as:

  • encouraging or ensuring up to date vaccination, where applicable,
  • ensuring your workers do not come to work when unwell,
  • improving air quality,
  • practising physical distancing and adhering to density limits (check occupancy limits for the type of building and building standards),
  • relocating work tasks to different areas of the workplace, off-site or supporting workers to work from home,
  • practising good hygiene,
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance,
  • staggering your workers’ start, finish and break times, and
  • reducing the number of situations where workers come into close contact, for example in lunchrooms and other shared spaces.

When deciding how to control the risks of COVID-19, employers have a duty to consult with workers and any Health and Safety Representatives about how to use control measures to manage the risks. This includes having administrative workplace policies and procedures related to the use of PPE. 

NOTE: This guidance is not intended to cover use of PPE in quarantine, health care, aged care and the disability sectors. More information about using PPE in these sectors can be found on the Australian Government Department of Health, Infection Control Expert Group and Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care websites

Risk Assessment

Under the model WHS laws, employers have a duty to manage the health and safety risks of COVID-19, so far as reasonably practicable, in the workplace. You should always aim to eliminate risks. If you can’t eliminate the risks of COVID-19, you must minimise the risks so far is risk assessment. This requires a risk assessment to identify what type of reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures, including PPE, are needed to protect workers from exposure to the COVID-19 virus. 

The use of PPE in the workplace to manage the risks of COVID-19 may not be the same for all businesses and depends on a range of factors, including whether public health directions apply (e.g. use of masks), the type of business, the level of customer interaction, the level of community transmission of the virus in the geographic area, business layout (including ability to physical distance) and worker demographics (e.g. people at higher risk of COVID-19 illness).

You must consult with workers and any Health and Safety Representatives when identifying the risks and when proposing the use of PPE as a control measure. Remember that prolonged use of PPE (e.g. masks, gloves, and eye protection) may cause physical discomfort, heat-related illnesses and psychological risks that should be considered in your risk assessment and consultation with workers. 

More information about controlling the risk of heat-related illnesses can be found in Safe Work Australia’s guide on Managing the risks of working in heat.

A risk assessment will assist you to: 

  • identify which workers are at risk of COVID-19,
  • determine what sources and processes are causing the risks of COVID-19, 
  • identify the control measures that are required to minimise the risks of COVID-19, which may include PPE, and 
  • check the effectiveness of your control measures. 

For PPE to be an effective control measure, it must be selected based upon the:

  • risk of worker exposure to COVID-19, and is used to minimise risk to the health and safety of the worker,
  • suitability for the nature of the work and any hazards associated with the work, including whether it is reasonably comfortable, properly fitted and regularly refitted for the workers wearing it,
  • worn consistently and regularly inspected, maintained and replaced as necessary, and
  • properly removed, cleaned and stored or disposed of, to avoid contaminating the worker, others and the workplace environment.

You must review your workplace risk assessment and control measures periodically, including when new COVID-19 variants emerge and/or as your workplace situation changes, to ensure their ongoing appropriateness and effectiveness taking into account the latest advice from your state or territory health department and Australian Health Protection Principal Committee

Even if certain types of PPE are no longer required under public health directions (e.g. use of masks), you still have a duty to review the risks and implement all control measures that are required to ensure the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace are minimised so far as is reasonably practicable. This may mean you continue to use PPE, such as masks, in your workplace to minimise the risks of COVID-19.

More information is available about how to prepare a risk assessment on the Safe Work Australia website.

Masks

Wearing masks helps prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. If the person wearing the mask is unaware that they are infected with COVID-19 virus, wearing a mask will reduce the chances of them passing the virus on to others. 

Some states and territories have issued public health directions that require masks to be worn for specific activities and in certain workplaces. If public health directions are made, you must follow them. 

Masks and respirators provide the wearer with differing levels of protection from inhaling the virus. It is important to understand the different type of masks and the level of protection they provide, to ensure you use the appropriate mask for your workplace setting. 

Cloth and utility masks are not medical grade masks and provide the wearer the least protection from viruses carried in respiratory droplets and aerosols. However, they can still help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. 

Surgical masks are medical grade masks that must comply with the relevant national standards (or equivalent). They are graded as level 1, 2 and 3 based on the level of protection, or fluid resistance, they provide the wearer. Surgical masks help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus and provide greater protection from infection for the wearer.

P2/N95 respirator masks that are designed for medical use must comply with the relevant national standards (or equivalent). They are required when there is a high-risk of exposure to body fluids, respiratory droplets and aerosols in higher-risk workplace settings such as health care, aged care and disability sectors, quarantine, police and security.

Surgical and P2/N95 respirator masks for medical use are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. See the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to check if your surgical or P2/N95 respirator mask is registered for medical use.
P2/N95 masks intended for non-medical purposes, such as in construction and other industrial workplace settings, are not medical grade and are not regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

For more information and guidance about using masks in health and aged care settings can be found on the Infection Control Expert Group and Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care websites. 

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has also published advice and recommendations for health care professionals on the use of surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and the types of face masks that are regulated as medical devices

More information

Additional guidance about the different types of masks and how to use them is on the Safe Work Australia website.

Gloves

The use of gloves is generally not required for most workplaces and should not be a substitute for frequent hand washing. 

While gloves (such as single use or reusable) should still be used for some practices (e.g. food handling, cleaning, gardening and trades), frequently cleaning your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds will prevent the spread of COVID-19. If gloves are used, good hand hygiene (cleaning with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or washing your hands) should be performed before putting on and after removing gloves.

Single use gloves should not be re-used, and reusable gloves should not be shared between workers. Gloves should be changed frequently throughout the day, as they can become contaminated and pose a risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus, putting workers and others at risk. When a person wears gloves, they may touch surfaces contaminated with the COVID-19 virus which can be transferred to other objects and surfaces or their face.

Importantly, not all gloves are appropriate for every workplace setting. Non-medical grade gloves (including include gloves made of poly-vinyl chloride, latex, nitrile or neoprene) can provide protection against exposure to biological hazards. These gloves can be purchased from pharmacies, supermarkets, and suppliers and manufacturers (including online) of safety or scientific equipment. 

Allergies and skin sensitivities

Some people may have an allergy to latex. People with an allergy to latex usually develop symptoms within minutes of exposure to latex; but can also occurs hours later. Mild symptoms involve skin redness, rash, hives, or itching; more severe reactions may involve respiratory symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, scratchy throat, and asthma (difficult breathing, coughing spells, and wheezing); and rarely, shock may occur although a life-threatening reaction is seldom the first sign of latex allergy.

Workplaces should consider providing latex free options to eliminate the risk of latex allergies. If this is not reasonably practicable, consider alternative options such as non-powdered latex gloves to minimise the risk of latex allergies. 

Synthetic gloves such as nitrile or neoprene may be a suitable alternative to latex gloves if there are no sensitivity issues to the material. Some wearers may experience contact dermatitis on the skin after wearing nitrile or neoprene gloves. Symptoms may include the skin becoming cracked, red, blistered, thickened, dry or itchy. 

Vinyl gloves are another alternative to latex or nitrile gloves. However, vinyl gloves are less durable and can split more easily when worn. They can be worn underneath latex or nitrile gloves, although this may cause other skin irritations from sweating and lack of ventilation inside the glove. 

It is important to consult with your workers and any Health and Safety Representatives and identify the risks and benefits of using gloves. You may determine that it is not necessary to require your workers to wear gloves and that good hand hygiene practices (cleaning with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or washing your hands) is a reasonably practicable control measure for your workplace.

How to put on a pair of gloves

If a worker is wearing gloves, either disposable or multi-use, they should be instructed to follow the steps below: 

  • Before putting on a pair of gloves, remove jewellery and clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Ensure that hands are fully dry before putting on gloves.
  • Take out a glove from its box. 
  • Touch only the top/wrist edge of the glove and slide your fingers and hand into the glove.
  • Take out the second glove from its box with the gloved hand.
  • Touch only the top/wrist edge of the glove and slide your fingers and hand into the glove.
  • While working on a task, maintain good hygiene by not touching your face and cough or sneezing into your elbow. Monitor what you touch and replace your gloves frequently.
  • Replace your gloves each time you would wash or sanitise your hands.
  • After completing a task/activity, think about whether there is a risk that you’ve touched a potentially contaminated surface or object.
  • Remove, dispose and replace your gloves when necessary.

How to remove a pair of gloves

  • If you are wearing single use gloves, carefully remove the first glove by gripping at the wrist edge without touching the skin and pull downwards away from the wrist, turning the glove inside out and dispose it in a closed bin.
  • With the un-gloved, bare hand, slide your fingers into the second glove and peel the glove downwards away from the wrist, turning the glove inside out and dispose it in a closed bin.
  • dispose them in a closed bin.
  • If you are wearing reusable gloves, remove, clean and store them according to the manufacturer’s instructions if available or your workplace policy.
  • After disposing single use gloves or storing reusable gloves, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

Eye protection

Eye protection, in the form of safety glasses, goggles and face shields, can be used as PPE for protecting against the risks of COVID-19. Eye protection can act as a physical barrier from splashes or sprays of body fluids and aerosol droplets. It may also prevent people from rubbing their eyes or touching their face and spreading the virus from their hands to their face and eyes.

Eye protection will not be required for many workplaces to minimise the risks of COVID-19.  However, it may be necessary for workers who have a higher risk of exposure to splashes or sprays of body fluids. For example, workers in health care, aged care, police, security, and quarantine settings. 

When eye protection is used, good hand hygiene practices (cleaning with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or washing your hands) should be performed before putting on and after removing eye protection.

Goggles or safety glasses

Goggles or safety glasses must be closely fitted with a wrap-around style and should meet Australian Standards (AS/NZS 1337.1:2010). Prescription glasses, contact lenses, and safety glasses that are not wrap-around, do not provide adequate protection against COVID-19 and should not be used as a control measure. 

Table 1 lists some advantages and disadvantages of using goggles and safety glasses as PPE for COVID-19.

Table 1: Advantages and disadvantages of using goggles and safety glasses*     

Advantages  

 Disadvantages
Are durable and reusable when appropriate cleaning procedures are followed. Wearing them for prolonged periods may increase the risk of skin injuries, particularly if they seal too tightly. 
Some types of safety glasses have a clear plastic lens with fog and scratch resistant treatment.  They do not stop the wearer from touching their mask or face. 
Prescription safety glasses may be ordered.    They may not be able to be worn over prescription glasses (depending on style).
They have a flexible frame to easily fit contours of the face.   They may become scratched over time and reduce visibility. 
They provide good eye protection by enclosing the eyes.  There is a higher risk of fogging. 

* Adapted from the Infection Control Expert Group Guidance on the use of PPE for health care workers in the context of COVID-19

You must consult with workers and any Health and Safety Representatives to help you identify any work health and safety risks that may affect your workers. Completing a risk assessment will assist you in deciding if and what goggles or safety glasses are required as part of your control measures.

You must also provide appropriate training and instruction to workers who will use them if you decide to use them. 

More information

Our cleaning guide provides information on cleaning and disinfecting for PPE, including eye protection. 

Face shields

Face shields may be used as an alternative to goggles or safety glasses. A face shield is a clear plastic barrier that covers the face and eyes, extending to the ears on the sides and below the chin. 

Face shields can be single use or reusable and are generally recommended for use in health care or aged care settings where additional protection against splashes or sprays of body fluids and aerosol droplets is required. Face shields have gaps to the sides and to the bottom of the face shield that may allow viruses carried in respiratory droplets and aerosols to be released from an infectious person’s mouth and nose. 

The Infection Control Expert Group advises that face shields are to be worn with a mask underneath, to protect the person from inhaling the virus and prevent infectious people (if the person is unaware that they are infected) from spreading the COVID-19 virus onto others. They should also have an adjustable band to attach firmly around the head and fit snuggly against the forehead to ensure there is no gap between the wearer’s forehead and the shield’s headpiece.

Table 2 lists some advantages and disadvantages of using face shields as PPE for COVID-19.

Table 2: Advantages and disadvantages of using face shields*

Advantages    Disadvantages
Provides a broad and clear field of view.  Gaps on the sides and underneath the face shield may allow virus-contaminated respiratory droplets and aerosols to reach the eyes (or the nose and mouth if a well-fitted mask is not worn at the same time).
They provide additional protection to the face and mask from splashes or sprays of body fluids and aerosol droplets. Some face shields do not extend to the sides of head towards the ears. These are not as protective as other forms of eyewear. 
The wearer’s eyes can be seen more easily, which may help with communication with others.  Face shields may make communication more difficult by muffling the wearer’s voice, especially when used with a mask. 
There is less risk of fogging.   
The wearer is less likely to touch their face and mask.   

    
* Adapted from the Infection Control Expert Group Guidance on the use of PPE for health care workers in the context of COVID-19

You must consult with workers and any Health and Safety Representatives to help you identify any work health and safety risks that may affect your workers. Completing a risk assessment will assist you in deciding if and what face shields are appropriate as part of your control measures. 

You must also provide appropriate training and instruction to workers who will use them if you decide to use them. 

More information

The Australian Government Department of Health has published a Coronavirus (COVID-19) face shields – a quick guide, which explains how to safely use face shields.

Our cleaning guide provides more information on cleaning and disinfecting for PPE, including eye protection. 

Screens

Many businesses have chosen to protect workers by installing screens (also known as sneezes guards), commonly constructed from acrylic.

Screens can be considered at workplaces where workers are in close proximity to each other for long periods or for workers serving customers/patients (e.g. retail stores, supermarkets, pharmacies and doctor’s surgeries). 

Screens come in many different sizes and shapes and can be custom made for the workplace. Generally, they have a space cut out to allow for exchange between the worker and a member of the public, with the screen covering the upper half of the body and head. 

If you are considering installing a screen you need to ensure that the screen is fit for purpose and provides adequate protection for your workers from droplet spray while allowing them to work safely. You should also consider whether the screen would protect your workers from aerosol transmission and the effects of the screen on ventilation in the workplace. 

You must consult with workers and any Health and Safety Representatives to help you identify any work health and safety risks that may affect your workers. Completing a risk assessment will assist you in deciding if and what kind of screen is appropriate as part of your control measures. Be aware that installing a screen or multiple screens around a worker may result in communication difficulties between persons, and limiting or obstructing a worker’s movements which may cause physical discomfort and psychological risks that should be discussed as part of your consultation processes.

You must also provide appropriate training and instruction to workers who will use them if you decide to install them. 

Screens should be cleaned and disinfected in the same manner as other frequently handled objects or surfaces. Our cleaning guide provides more information on cleaning and disinfecting, including for specific surfaces. 

Do I need to provide PPE for my workers?

After following a risk assessment and consultation with your workers, you determine that PPE is a reasonably practicable control measure to minimise the risks of COVID-19, then you must provide them to your workers.

However, COVID-19 public health directions can be issued by governments for workplaces to wear masks. If so, you must provide masks to your workers. It is important that you keep up to date with the public health directions that apply in your state or territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace.

Depending on your workplace (type of work, the workers and others who come into the workplace), PPE could include:

  • masks
  • gloves
  • eye protection (e.g. goggles, safety glasses or face shields).

If your workers are required to wear PPE, you must provide them. You must also provide appropriate training and instruction on how and when to put on, wear, remove, dispose of or clean and maintain (e.g. cloth masks, eye protection and screens) the PPE. 

If a worker has been provided training and instruction about using PPE, they must comply with that training and those instructions. 

More information about employer’s duties when considering PPE as a control measure and how PPE helps to manage risks, is available on the Safe Work Australia website.

Do I need to consult with my workers about PPE?

You must consult with your workers and any health and safety representatives about the control measures you will put in place to manage the risks of COVID-19, including the use of PPE. Remember that prolonged use of PPE may cause physical discomfort and psychological  risks that should be discussed as part of your consultation with workers.

If, after consultation, you determine that your workers require PPE, you must provide them with appropriate information, instruction and training on its use. This includes how to wear PPE safely and correctly, how to store items safely, how to dispose of single use items and how to clean re-usable items. 

If available, you should refer to the manufacturer’s instructions provided with the PPE for correct use, storage, maintenance and when to replace the PPE. 

The model Code of Practice: Work health and safety consultation, cooperation and coordination provides more information about your general duties to consult with workers. 

What else must I do to protect workers?

Masks alone will not provide complete protection from exposure to COVID-19. To meet your duties under the model WHS laws and minimise the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace, you must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures such as:

  • encouraging or ensuring up to date vaccination, where applicable,
  • ensuring your workers do not come to work when unwell,
  • improving air quality,
  • practising physical distancing and adhering to density limits (check occupancy limits for the type of building and building standards),
  • relocating work tasks to different areas of the workplace, off-site or supporting workers to work from home,
  • practising good hygiene,
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance,
  • staggering your workers’ start, finish and break times, and
  • reducing the number of situations where workers come into close contact, for example in lunchrooms and other shared spaces.

How do I handle and dispose of single use PPE?

It is important to be mindful of how you dispose of your PPE. Your PPE may have been contaminated with the COVID-19 virus carried in respiratory droplets and aerosols. When removing and disposing single use PPE, this is when you could accidently infect yourself or others.

When disposing your PPE, you should:
Have a consistent sequence so that this can become routine.
Take your time, don't rush.
Always perform hand hygiene prior to removing any PPE from your face (e.g. masks) and after disposing any PPE.
Ensure your PPE avoids contact with other surfaces when disposing.

Single use PPE can be disposed of with the general waste, preferably into a closed bin containing two bin liners to ensure the waste is double bagged. Double bagging minimises any exposure to the person disposing the waste. 

A closed bin is a bin with a fitted lid, preferably one that does not need to be touched to place the PPE inside. A bin with a foot pedal or other hands-free mechanism to open the lid would be appropriate. Where a closed bin is not available, PPE should be placed in a sealed bag before disposal into the bin. The sealed bag and a single bin liner are considered equivalent to double bagging. 

It is important to follow good hand hygiene, after removing and disposing of your PPE. Hands should be washed with soap and water for 20 seconds or cleaned with alcohol-based hand sanitiser containing at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol. 

If you have a case of COVID-19 in the workplace, your state or territory health authority can provide you with advice on what you need to do. Follow their instructions. 
 

 

This page provides information about your obligations under the model WHS laws and how these relate to the use of masks in the workplace. This information will assist you to assess whether the use of masks for your workers, including contractors and labour-hire, is a reasonably practicable control measure to manage the risks of COVID-19 at work. 

You will need to review this assessment from time to time. 

Further, the use of masks is only one control measure for COVID-19 that may be required under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws for your workplace. You must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable control measures in your workplace such as encouraging vaccination, physical distancing and good hygiene to minimise the risks from COVID-19. Further information on other control measures is provided on this page.

In addition to your obligations under the model WHS laws, you must also comply with any public health orders or directions made by governments that apply to you and your workplace. This guidance does not affect any obligations you may have regarding the use of masks that apply under public health orders and directions.

This guidance does not change, remove or reduce any existing rights or obligations under the model WHS laws.

As Victoria has not adopted the model WHS laws, this guidance is not applicable to Victoria. Up-to-date guidance applicable to responding to COVID-19 in Victorian workplaces can be found on the WorkSafe Victoria website.

Employers have a duty under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws to eliminate risks, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace so far as is reasonably practicable. The hierarchy of control measures, ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest level of protection, is one way to eliminate and minimise the risks of COVID-19. In the hierarchy of control measures, PPE are a low-level control measure as they rely on human behaviour and supervision to ensure they are appropriately worn and used to help minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace.

This information will assist you to assess whether using PPE is a reasonably practicable control measure to manage the risks of COVID-19 at your workplace. 

PPE refers to anything used or worn to minimise risk to worker health and safety. Common types of PPE that can be used to protect against COVID-19 include:  

  • masks
  • gloves
  • eye protection (e.g. goggles, safety glasses and face shields), and
  • screens. 

Some states and territories have issued public health directions that require masks to be worn for specific activities and in certain workplaces. If public health directions are made, you must follow them. 

The type of PPE will depend on your type of workplace and the outcomes of your consultation with workers and your risk assessment. If PPE has been identified as a reasonably practicable control measure in your workplace, this must be provided at no cost to your workers. 

PPE can be a critical part of protecting workers against COVID-19, including when new COVID 19 variants emerge. However, even if your workers use PPE, to ensure you meet your duties under the model WHS laws and to minimise the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace, you must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures such as:

  • encouraging or ensuring up to date vaccination, where applicable,
  • ensuring your workers do not come to work when unwell,
  • improving air quality,
  • practising physical distancing and adhering to density limits (check occupancy limits for the type of building and building standards),
  • relocating work tasks to different areas of the workplace, off-site or supporting workers to work from home,
  • practising good hygiene,
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance,
  • staggering your workers’ start, finish and break times, and
  • reducing the number of situations where workers come into close contact, for example in lunchrooms and other shared spaces.

When deciding how to control the risks of COVID-19, employers have a duty to consult with workers and any Health and Safety Representatives about how to use control measures to manage the risks. This includes having administrative workplace policies and procedures related to the use of PPE. 

NOTE: This guidance is not intended to cover use of PPE in quarantine, health care, aged care and the disability sectors. More information about using PPE in these sectors can be found on the Australian Government Department of Health, Infection Control Expert Group and Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care websites

Risk Assessment

Under the model WHS laws, employers have a duty to manage the health and safety risks of COVID-19, so far as reasonably practicable, in the workplace. You should always aim to eliminate risks. If you can’t eliminate the risks of COVID-19, you must minimise the risks so far is risk assessment. This requires a risk assessment to identify what type of reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures, including PPE, are needed to protect workers from exposure to the COVID-19 virus. 

The use of PPE in the workplace to manage the risks of COVID-19 may not be the same for all businesses and depends on a range of factors, including whether public health directions apply (e.g. use of masks), the type of business, the level of customer interaction, the level of community transmission of the virus in the geographic area, business layout (including ability to physical distance) and worker demographics (e.g. people at higher risk of COVID-19 illness).

You must consult with workers and any Health and Safety Representatives when identifying the risks and when proposing the use of PPE as a control measure. Remember that prolonged use of PPE (e.g. masks, gloves, and eye protection) may cause physical discomfort, heat-related illnesses and psychological risks that should be considered in your risk assessment and consultation with workers. 

More information about controlling the risk of heat-related illnesses can be found in Safe Work Australia’s guide on Managing the risks of working in heat.

A risk assessment will assist you to: 

  • identify which workers are at risk of COVID-19,
  • determine what sources and processes are causing the risks of COVID-19, 
  • identify the control measures that are required to minimise the risks of COVID-19, which may include PPE, and 
  • check the effectiveness of your control measures. 

For PPE to be an effective control measure, it must be selected based upon the:

  • risk of worker exposure to COVID-19, and is used to minimise risk to the health and safety of the worker,
  • suitability for the nature of the work and any hazards associated with the work, including whether it is reasonably comfortable, properly fitted and regularly refitted for the workers wearing it,
  • worn consistently and regularly inspected, maintained and replaced as necessary, and
  • properly removed, cleaned and stored or disposed of, to avoid contaminating the worker, others and the workplace environment.

You must review your workplace risk assessment and control measures periodically, including when new COVID-19 variants emerge and/or as your workplace situation changes, to ensure their ongoing appropriateness and effectiveness taking into account the latest advice from your state or territory health department and Australian Health Protection Principal Committee

Even if certain types of PPE are no longer required under public health directions (e.g. use of masks), you still have a duty to review the risks and implement all control measures that are required to ensure the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace are minimised so far as is reasonably practicable. This may mean you continue to use PPE, such as masks, in your workplace to minimise the risks of COVID-19.

More information is available about how to prepare a risk assessment on the Safe Work Australia website.

Masks

Wearing masks helps prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. If the person wearing the mask is unaware that they are infected with COVID-19 virus, wearing a mask will reduce the chances of them passing the virus on to others. 

Some states and territories have issued public health directions that require masks to be worn for specific activities and in certain workplaces. If public health directions are made, you must follow them. 

Masks and respirators provide the wearer with differing levels of protection from inhaling the virus. It is important to understand the different type of masks and the level of protection they provide, to ensure you use the appropriate mask for your workplace setting. 

Cloth and utility masks are not medical grade masks and provide the wearer the least protection from viruses carried in respiratory droplets and aerosols. However, they can still help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. 

Surgical masks are medical grade masks that must comply with the relevant national standards (or equivalent). They are graded as level 1, 2 and 3 based on the level of protection, or fluid resistance, they provide the wearer. Surgical masks help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus and provide greater protection from infection for the wearer.

P2/N95 respirator masks that are designed for medical use must comply with the relevant national standards (or equivalent). They are required when there is a high-risk of exposure to body fluids, respiratory droplets and aerosols in higher-risk workplace settings such as health care, aged care and disability sectors, quarantine, police and security.

Surgical and P2/N95 respirator masks for medical use are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. See the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to check if your surgical or P2/N95 respirator mask is registered for medical use.
P2/N95 masks intended for non-medical purposes, such as in construction and other industrial workplace settings, are not medical grade and are not regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

For more information and guidance about using masks in health and aged care settings can be found on the Infection Control Expert Group and Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care websites. 

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has also published advice and recommendations for health care professionals on the use of surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and the types of face masks that are regulated as medical devices

More information

Additional guidance about the different types of masks and how to use them is on the Safe Work Australia website.

Gloves

The use of gloves is generally not required for most workplaces and should not be a substitute for frequent hand washing. 

While gloves (such as single use or reusable) should still be used for some practices (e.g. food handling, cleaning, gardening and trades), frequently cleaning your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds will prevent the spread of COVID-19. If gloves are used, good hand hygiene (cleaning with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or washing your hands) should be performed before putting on and after removing gloves.

Single use gloves should not be re-used, and reusable gloves should not be shared between workers. Gloves should be changed frequently throughout the day, as they can become contaminated and pose a risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus, putting workers and others at risk. When a person wears gloves, they may touch surfaces contaminated with the COVID-19 virus which can be transferred to other objects and surfaces or their face.

Importantly, not all gloves are appropriate for every workplace setting. Non-medical grade gloves (including include gloves made of poly-vinyl chloride, latex, nitrile or neoprene) can provide protection against exposure to biological hazards. These gloves can be purchased from pharmacies, supermarkets, and suppliers and manufacturers (including online) of safety or scientific equipment. 

Allergies and skin sensitivities

Some people may have an allergy to latex. People with an allergy to latex usually develop symptoms within minutes of exposure to latex; but can also occurs hours later. Mild symptoms involve skin redness, rash, hives, or itching; more severe reactions may involve respiratory symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, scratchy throat, and asthma (difficult breathing, coughing spells, and wheezing); and rarely, shock may occur although a life-threatening reaction is seldom the first sign of latex allergy.

Workplaces should consider providing latex free options to eliminate the risk of latex allergies. If this is not reasonably practicable, consider alternative options such as non-powdered latex gloves to minimise the risk of latex allergies. 

Synthetic gloves such as nitrile or neoprene may be a suitable alternative to latex gloves if there are no sensitivity issues to the material. Some wearers may experience contact dermatitis on the skin after wearing nitrile or neoprene gloves. Symptoms may include the skin becoming cracked, red, blistered, thickened, dry or itchy. 

Vinyl gloves are another alternative to latex or nitrile gloves. However, vinyl gloves are less durable and can split more easily when worn. They can be worn underneath latex or nitrile gloves, although this may cause other skin irritations from sweating and lack of ventilation inside the glove. 

It is important to consult with your workers and any Health and Safety Representatives and identify the risks and benefits of using gloves. You may determine that it is not necessary to require your workers to wear gloves and that good hand hygiene practices (cleaning with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or washing your hands) is a reasonably practicable control measure for your workplace.

How to put on a pair of gloves

If a worker is wearing gloves, either disposable or multi-use, they should be instructed to follow the steps below: 

  • Before putting on a pair of gloves, remove jewellery and clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Ensure that hands are fully dry before putting on gloves.
  • Take out a glove from its box. 
  • Touch only the top/wrist edge of the glove and slide your fingers and hand into the glove.
  • Take out the second glove from its box with the gloved hand.
  • Touch only the top/wrist edge of the glove and slide your fingers and hand into the glove.
  • While working on a task, maintain good hygiene by not touching your face and cough or sneezing into your elbow. Monitor what you touch and replace your gloves frequently.
  • Replace your gloves each time you would wash or sanitise your hands.
  • After completing a task/activity, think about whether there is a risk that you’ve touched a potentially contaminated surface or object.
  • Remove, dispose and replace your gloves when necessary.

How to remove a pair of gloves

  • If you are wearing single use gloves, carefully remove the first glove by gripping at the wrist edge without touching the skin and pull downwards away from the wrist, turning the glove inside out and dispose it in a closed bin.
  • With the un-gloved, bare hand, slide your fingers into the second glove and peel the glove downwards away from the wrist, turning the glove inside out and dispose it in a closed bin.
  • dispose them in a closed bin.
  • If you are wearing reusable gloves, remove, clean and store them according to the manufacturer’s instructions if available or your workplace policy.
  • After disposing single use gloves or storing reusable gloves, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

Eye protection

Eye protection, in the form of safety glasses, goggles and face shields, can be used as PPE for protecting against the risks of COVID-19. Eye protection can act as a physical barrier from splashes or sprays of body fluids and aerosol droplets. It may also prevent people from rubbing their eyes or touching their face and spreading the virus from their hands to their face and eyes.

Eye protection will not be required for many workplaces to minimise the risks of COVID-19.  However, it may be necessary for workers who have a higher risk of exposure to splashes or sprays of body fluids. For example, workers in health care, aged care, police, security, and quarantine settings. 

When eye protection is used, good hand hygiene practices (cleaning with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or washing your hands) should be performed before putting on and after removing eye protection.

Goggles or safety glasses

Goggles or safety glasses must be closely fitted with a wrap-around style and should meet Australian Standards (AS/NZS 1337.1:2010). Prescription glasses, contact lenses, and safety glasses that are not wrap-around, do not provide adequate protection against COVID-19 and should not be used as a control measure. 

Table 1 lists some advantages and disadvantages of using goggles and safety glasses as PPE for COVID-19.

Table 1: Advantages and disadvantages of using goggles and safety glasses*     

Advantages  

 Disadvantages
Are durable and reusable when appropriate cleaning procedures are followed. Wearing them for prolonged periods may increase the risk of skin injuries, particularly if they seal too tightly. 
Some types of safety glasses have a clear plastic lens with fog and scratch resistant treatment.  They do not stop the wearer from touching their mask or face. 
Prescription safety glasses may be ordered.    They may not be able to be worn over prescription glasses (depending on style).
They have a flexible frame to easily fit contours of the face.   They may become scratched over time and reduce visibility. 
They provide good eye protection by enclosing the eyes.  There is a higher risk of fogging. 

* Adapted from the Infection Control Expert Group Guidance on the use of PPE for health care workers in the context of COVID-19

You must consult with workers and any Health and Safety Representatives to help you identify any work health and safety risks that may affect your workers. Completing a risk assessment will assist you in deciding if and what goggles or safety glasses are required as part of your control measures.

You must also provide appropriate training and instruction to workers who will use them if you decide to use them. 

More information

Our cleaning guide provides information on cleaning and disinfecting for PPE, including eye protection. 

Face shields

Face shields may be used as an alternative to goggles or safety glasses. A face shield is a clear plastic barrier that covers the face and eyes, extending to the ears on the sides and below the chin. 

Face shields can be single use or reusable and are generally recommended for use in health care or aged care settings where additional protection against splashes or sprays of body fluids and aerosol droplets is required. Face shields have gaps to the sides and to the bottom of the face shield that may allow viruses carried in respiratory droplets and aerosols to be released from an infectious person’s mouth and nose. 

The Infection Control Expert Group advises that face shields are to be worn with a mask underneath, to protect the person from inhaling the virus and prevent infectious people (if the person is unaware that they are infected) from spreading the COVID-19 virus onto others. They should also have an adjustable band to attach firmly around the head and fit snuggly against the forehead to ensure there is no gap between the wearer’s forehead and the shield’s headpiece.

Table 2 lists some advantages and disadvantages of using face shields as PPE for COVID-19.

Table 2: Advantages and disadvantages of using face shields*

Advantages    Disadvantages
Provides a broad and clear field of view.  Gaps on the sides and underneath the face shield may allow virus-contaminated respiratory droplets and aerosols to reach the eyes (or the nose and mouth if a well-fitted mask is not worn at the same time).
They provide additional protection to the face and mask from splashes or sprays of body fluids and aerosol droplets. Some face shields do not extend to the sides of head towards the ears. These are not as protective as other forms of eyewear. 
The wearer’s eyes can be seen more easily, which may help with communication with others.  Face shields may make communication more difficult by muffling the wearer’s voice, especially when used with a mask. 
There is less risk of fogging.   
The wearer is less likely to touch their face and mask.   

    
* Adapted from the Infection Control Expert Group Guidance on the use of PPE for health care workers in the context of COVID-19

You must consult with workers and any Health and Safety Representatives to help you identify any work health and safety risks that may affect your workers. Completing a risk assessment will assist you in deciding if and what face shields are appropriate as part of your control measures. 

You must also provide appropriate training and instruction to workers who will use them if you decide to use them. 

More information

The Australian Government Department of Health has published a Coronavirus (COVID-19) face shields – a quick guide, which explains how to safely use face shields.

Our cleaning guide provides more information on cleaning and disinfecting for PPE, including eye protection. 

Screens

Many businesses have chosen to protect workers by installing screens (also known as sneezes guards), commonly constructed from acrylic.

Screens can be considered at workplaces where workers are in close proximity to each other for long periods or for workers serving customers/patients (e.g. retail stores, supermarkets, pharmacies and doctor’s surgeries). 

Screens come in many different sizes and shapes and can be custom made for the workplace. Generally, they have a space cut out to allow for exchange between the worker and a member of the public, with the screen covering the upper half of the body and head. 

If you are considering installing a screen you need to ensure that the screen is fit for purpose and provides adequate protection for your workers from droplet spray while allowing them to work safely. You should also consider whether the screen would protect your workers from aerosol transmission and the effects of the screen on ventilation in the workplace. 

You must consult with workers and any Health and Safety Representatives to help you identify any work health and safety risks that may affect your workers. Completing a risk assessment will assist you in deciding if and what kind of screen is appropriate as part of your control measures. Be aware that installing a screen or multiple screens around a worker may result in communication difficulties between persons, and limiting or obstructing a worker’s movements which may cause physical discomfort and psychological risks that should be discussed as part of your consultation processes.

You must also provide appropriate training and instruction to workers who will use them if you decide to install them. 

Screens should be cleaned and disinfected in the same manner as other frequently handled objects or surfaces. Our cleaning guide provides more information on cleaning and disinfecting, including for specific surfaces. 

Do I need to provide PPE for my workers?

After following a risk assessment and consultation with your workers, you determine that PPE is a reasonably practicable control measure to minimise the risks of COVID-19, then you must provide them to your workers.

However, COVID-19 public health directions can be issued by governments for workplaces to wear masks. If so, you must provide masks to your workers. It is important that you keep up to date with the public health directions that apply in your state or territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace.

Depending on your workplace (type of work, the workers and others who come into the workplace), PPE could include:

  • masks
  • gloves
  • eye protection (e.g. goggles, safety glasses or face shields).

If your workers are required to wear PPE, you must provide them. You must also provide appropriate training and instruction on how and when to put on, wear, remove, dispose of or clean and maintain (e.g. cloth masks, eye protection and screens) the PPE. 

If a worker has been provided training and instruction about using PPE, they must comply with that training and those instructions. 

More information about employer’s duties when considering PPE as a control measure and how PPE helps to manage risks, is available on the Safe Work Australia website.

Do I need to consult with my workers about PPE?

You must consult with your workers and any health and safety representatives about the control measures you will put in place to manage the risks of COVID-19, including the use of PPE. Remember that prolonged use of PPE may cause physical discomfort and psychological  risks that should be discussed as part of your consultation with workers.

If, after consultation, you determine that your workers require PPE, you must provide them with appropriate information, instruction and training on its use. This includes how to wear PPE safely and correctly, how to store items safely, how to dispose of single use items and how to clean re-usable items. 

If available, you should refer to the manufacturer’s instructions provided with the PPE for correct use, storage, maintenance and when to replace the PPE. 

The model Code of Practice: Work health and safety consultation, cooperation and coordination provides more information about your general duties to consult with workers. 

What else must I do to protect workers?

Masks alone will not provide complete protection from exposure to COVID-19. To meet your duties under the model WHS laws and minimise the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace, you must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures such as:

  • encouraging or ensuring up to date vaccination, where applicable,
  • ensuring your workers do not come to work when unwell,
  • improving air quality,
  • practising physical distancing and adhering to density limits (check occupancy limits for the type of building and building standards),
  • relocating work tasks to different areas of the workplace, off-site or supporting workers to work from home,
  • practising good hygiene,
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance,
  • staggering your workers’ start, finish and break times, and
  • reducing the number of situations where workers come into close contact, for example in lunchrooms and other shared spaces.

How do I handle and dispose of single use PPE?

It is important to be mindful of how you dispose of your PPE. Your PPE may have been contaminated with the COVID-19 virus carried in respiratory droplets and aerosols. When removing and disposing single use PPE, this is when you could accidently infect yourself or others.

When disposing your PPE, you should:
Have a consistent sequence so that this can become routine.
Take your time, don't rush.
Always perform hand hygiene prior to removing any PPE from your face (e.g. masks) and after disposing any PPE.
Ensure your PPE avoids contact with other surfaces when disposing.

Single use PPE can be disposed of with the general waste, preferably into a closed bin containing two bin liners to ensure the waste is double bagged. Double bagging minimises any exposure to the person disposing the waste. 

A closed bin is a bin with a fitted lid, preferably one that does not need to be touched to place the PPE inside. A bin with a foot pedal or other hands-free mechanism to open the lid would be appropriate. Where a closed bin is not available, PPE should be placed in a sealed bag before disposal into the bin. The sealed bag and a single bin liner are considered equivalent to double bagging. 

It is important to follow good hand hygiene, after removing and disposing of your PPE. Hands should be washed with soap and water for 20 seconds or cleaned with alcohol-based hand sanitiser containing at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol. 

If you have a case of COVID-19 in the workplace, your state or territory health authority can provide you with advice on what you need to do. Follow their instructions. 

This page provides information about your obligations as a worker, and your employers’ obligations, under the model WHS laws and how these relate to the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the workplace. This includes information on whether the use of PPE for workers, including contractors and labour-hire, is a reasonably practicable control measure to manage the risks of COVID-19 at work. 

The use of PPE is only one control measure for COVID-19 that may be required under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws for your workplace. Your employer must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable control measures in your workplace such as encouraging or ensuring up to date vaccination, physical distancing and good hygiene to minimise the risks from COVID-19. Further information on other control measures is provided on this page.

You must comply so far is you are reasonably able with a reasonable instruction given by your employer about WHS matters (including about managing the risks of COVID-19). In addition to your obligations under the model WHS laws, you must also comply with any public health orders or directions made by governments that apply to you and your workplace. This guidance does not affect any obligations you may have regarding the use of PPE that apply under public health orders and directions.

This guidance does not change, remove or reduce any existing rights or obligations under the model WHS laws.

As Victoria has not adopted the model WHS laws, this guidance is not applicable to Victoria. Up-to-date guidance applicable to responding to COVID-19 in Victorian workplaces can be found on the WorkSafe Victoria website.

Personal protective equipment as a control for COVID-19

As a worker, you must take reasonable care for your own health and safety, and that of other persons who may be affected by your acts or omissions. You must comply, so far as you are reasonably able, with any reasonable instruction that is given by your employer so they comply with the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws. You must also cooperate with any reasonable policy or procedure that has been notified and provided to you.

Employers have a duty under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws to eliminate risks, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace so far as is reasonably practicable. The hierarchy of control measures, ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest level of protection, is one way to eliminate and minimise the risks of COVID-19. In the hierarchy of control measures, PPE are a low-level control measure as they rely on human behaviour and supervision to ensure they are appropriately worn and used to help minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace.

PPE refers to anything used or worn to minimise risk to worker health and safety. Common types of PPE that can be used to protect against COVID-19 include:

Some states and territories have issued public health directions that require masks to be worn for specific activities and in certain workplaces. If public health directions are made, you must follow them. 

The type of PPE your employer may provide you, will depend on your type of workplace and the outcomes of their consultation with you and Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs; if any), and the workplace risk assessment. If PPE has been identified as a reasonably practicable control measure in your workplace, this must be provided at no cost to you. 

PPE can be a critical part of protecting workers against COVID-19, including when new COVID 19 variants emerge. However, even if you use PPE, to ensure you meet your duties under the model WHS laws and to minimise the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace, your employer must continue to implement all other reasonably practicable COVID-19 control measures that would apply at your workplace, such as:

  • encouraging or ensuring up to date vaccination, where applicable,
  • ensuring workers do not come to work when unwell,
  • improving air quality,
  • practising physical distancing and adhering to density limits (check occupancy limits for the type of building and building standards),
  • relocating work tasks to different areas of the workplace, off-site or supporting workers to work from home,
  • practising good hygiene,
  • increasing cleaning and maintenance,
  • staggering workers’ start, finish and break times, and
  • reducing the number of situations where workers come into close contact, for example in lunchrooms and other shared spaces.

NOTE: This guidance is not intended to cover use of PPE in quarantine, health care, aged care and the disability sectors. More information about using PPE in these sectors can be found on the Australian Government Department of Health, Infection Control Expert Group and Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care websites

Does my employer need to consult with me about PPE? 

Your employer must consult with you and any HSRs about the control measures to put in place to manage the risks of COVID-19, including the use of PPE. Remember that prolonged use of PPE (e.g. masks, gloves, and eye protection) may cause physical discomfort, heat-related illnesses and psychological risks that should be considered during your employers’ consultation.

If available, your employer should provide you the manufacturer’s instructions provided with the PPE for correct use, storage, maintenance and when to replace the PPE.     

Even if certain types of PPE are no longer required under public health directions (e.g. use of masks), your employer still has a duty to consult with you, review the risks and implement all control measures that are required to ensure the risks of COVID-19 are minimised so far as is reasonably practicable. This may mean you continue to use PPE, such as masks, in your workplace to minimise the risks of COVID-19.

Does my employer need to provide PPE?

If, after consultation, your employer determines that PPE is a reasonably practicable control measure to minimise the risks of COVID-19, then your employer must provide them to you.

COVID-19 public health directions may also be issued by governments for workplaces to wear masks. If so, your employer must also provide PPE to you. It is important that you keep up to date with the public health directions that apply in your state or territory, and ensure that these are followed at your workplace.

Depending on your workplace (type of work, the workers and others who come into the workplace), PPE could include masks, gloves and eye protection (e.g. goggles, safety glasses or face shields). They  must also provide you with the appropriate training and instruction on how and when to put on, wear, remove, dispose of or clean and maintain (e.g. cloth masks, eye protection and screens) the PPE. 

If your employer has provided you with training and instruction about using PPE,  then you must comply with that training and those instructions. 

Your employer will also need to ensure that appropriate facilities are provided if PPE is used at the workplace. This includes appropriate hand washing or sanitising facilities and a bin to dispose of used disposable PPE.

Masks

Wearing masks helps prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. If the person wearing the mask is unaware that they are infected with COVID-19 virus, wearing a mask will reduce the chances of them passing the virus on to others. 

Some states and territories have issued public health directions that require masks to be worn for specific activities and in certain workplaces. If public health directions are made, you must follow them. 

Masks and respirators provide the wearer with differing levels of protection from inhaling the virus. It is important to understand the different type of masks and the level of protection they provide, to ensure you use the appropriate mask for your workplace setting. 

Cloth and utility masks are not medical grade masks and provide the wearer the least protection from viruses carried in respiratory droplets and aerosols. However, they can still help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus. 

Surgical masks are medical grade masks that must comply with the relevant national standards (or equivalent). They are graded as level 1, 2 and 3 based on the level of protection, or fluid resistance, they provide the wearer. Surgical masks help prevent infectious people from spreading the COVID-19 virus and provide greater protection from infection for the wearer.

P2/N95 respirator masks that are designed for medical use must comply with the relevant national standards (or equivalent). They are required when there is a high-risk of exposure to body fluids, respiratory droplets and aerosols in higher-risk workplace settings such as health care, aged care and disability sectors, quarantine, police and security.

Surgical and P2/N95 respirator masks for medical use are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. See the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to check if your surgical or P2/N95 respirator mask is registered for medical use.

P2/N95 masks intended for non-medical purposes, such as in construction and other industrial workplace settings, are not medical grade and are not regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

For more information and guidance about using masks in health and aged care settings can be found on the Infection Control Expert Group and Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care websites. . 

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has also published advice and recommendations for health care professionals on the use of surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and the types of face masks that are regulated as medical devices. . 

More information

Additional guidance about the different types of masks and how to use them is on the Safe Work Australia website.

Gloves

The use of gloves is generally not required for most workplaces and should not be a substitute for frequent hand washing. 

While gloves (such as single use or reusable) should still be used for some practices (e.g. food handling, cleaning, gardening and trades), frequently cleaning your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds will prevent the spread of COVID-19. If gloves are used, good hand hygiene (cleaning with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or washing your hands) should be performed before putting on and after removing gloves.

Single use gloves should not be re-used, and reusable gloves should not be shared between workers. Gloves should be changed frequently throughout the day, as they can become contaminated and pose a risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus, putting workers and others at risk. When a person wears gloves, they may touch surfaces contaminated with the COVID-19 virus which can be transferred to other objects and surfaces or their face.

Importantly, not all gloves are appropriate for every workplace setting. Non-medical grade gloves (including include gloves made of poly-vinyl chloride, latex, nitrile or neoprene) can provide protection against exposure to biological hazards. These gloves can be purchased from pharmacies, supermarkets, and suppliers and manufacturers (including online) of safety or scientific equipment. 

Allergies and skin sensitivities

Some people may have an allergy to latex. People with an allergy to latex usually develop symptoms within minutes of exposure to latex; but can also occurs hours later. Mild symptoms involve skin redness, rash, hives, or itching; more severe reactions may involve respiratory symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, scratchy throat, and asthma (difficult breathing, coughing spells, and wheezing); and rarely, shock may occur although a life-threatening reaction is seldom the first sign of latex allergy.

Your employer should consider providing latex free options to eliminate the risk of latex allergies. If this is not reasonably practicable, you employer should consider alternative options such as non-powdered latex gloves to minimise the risk of latex allergies. 

Synthetic gloves such as nitrile or neoprene may be a suitable alternative to latex gloves if there are no sensitivity issues to the material. Some wearers may experience contact dermatitis on the skin after wearing nitrile or neoprene gloves. Symptoms may include the skin becoming cracked, red, blistered, thickened, dry or itchy. 

Vinyl gloves are another alternative to latex or nitrile gloves. However, vinyl gloves are less durable and can split more easily when worn. They can be worn underneath latex or nitrile gloves, although this may cause other skin irritations from sweating and lack of ventilation inside the glove. 

How to put on a pair of gloves

If you are wearing gloves, either disposable or multi-use, then you should follow the steps below: 

  • Before putting on a pair of gloves, remove jewellery and clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Ensure that hands are fully dry before putting on gloves.
  • Take out a glove from its box. 
  • Touch only the top/wrist edge of the glove and slide your fingers and hand into the glove.
  • Take out the second glove from its box with the gloved hand.
  • Touch only the top/wrist edge of the glove and slide your fingers and hand into the glove.
  • While working on a task, maintain good hygiene by not touching your face and cough or sneezing into your elbow. Monitor what you touch and replace your gloves frequently.
  • Replace your gloves each time you would wash or sanitise your hands.
  • After completing a task/activity, think about whether there is a risk that you’ve touched a potentially contaminated surface or object.
  • Remove, dispose and replace your gloves when necessary.

How to remove a pair of gloves

  • If you are wearing single use gloves, carefully remove the first glove by gripping at the wrist edge without touching the skin and pull downwards away from the wrist, turning the glove inside out and dispose it in a closed bin (see below for information on disposal).
  • With the un-gloved, bare hand, slide your fingers into the second glove and peel the glove downwards away from the wrist, turning the glove inside out and dispose it in a closed bin (see below for information on disposal).
  • dispose them in a closed bin (see below for information on disposal).
  • If you are wearing reusable gloves, remove, clean and store them according to the manufacturer’s instructions if available or your workplace policy.
  • After disposing single use gloves or storing reusable gloves, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

Eye protection

Eye protection, in the form of safety glasses, goggles and face shields, can be used as PPE for protecting against the risks of COVID-19. Eye protection can act as a physical barrier from splashes or sprays of body fluids and aerosol droplets. It may also prevent people from rubbing their eyes or touching their face and spreading the virus from their hands to their face and eyes.

Eye protection will not be required for many workplaces to minimise the risks of COVID-19.  However, it may be necessary for workers who have a higher risk of exposure to splashes or sprays of body fluids. For example, workers in health care, aged care, police, security, and quarantine settings. 

When eye protection is used, good hand hygiene practices (cleaning with alcohol-based hand sanitiser or washing your hands) should be performed before putting on and after removing eye protection.

Goggles or safety glasses

Goggles or safety glasses must be closely fitted with a wrap-around style and should meet Australian Standards (AS/NZS 1337.1:2010). Prescription glasses, contact lenses, and safety glasses that are not wrap-around, do not provide adequate protection against COVID-19 and should not be used as a control measure. 

Table 1 lists some advantages and disadvantages of using goggles and safety glasses as PPE for COVID-19.

Table 1: Advantages and disadvantages of using goggles and safety glasses*     

Advantages  

 Disadvantages
Are durable and reusable when appropriate cleaning procedures are followed. Wearing them for prolonged periods may increase the risk of skin injuries, particularly if they seal too tightly. 
Some types of safety glasses have a clear plastic lens with fog and scratch resistant treatment.  They do not stop the wearer from touching their mask or face. 
Prescription safety glasses may be ordered.    They may not be able to be worn over prescription glasses (depending on style).
They have a flexible frame to easily fit contours of the face.   They may become scratched over time and reduce visibility. 
They provide good eye protection by enclosing the eyes.  There is a higher risk of fogging. 

* Adapted from the Infection Control Expert Group Guidance on the use of PPE for health care workers in the context of COVID-19

Your employer must consult with you and any Health and Safety Representatives to help identify any work health and safety risks  when deciding if and what type of goggles or safety glasses may be required as part of your workplace control measures.

If your employer requires you to wear eye protection, they must also provide you with the appropriate training and instruction on how to use and clean them . 

More information

Our cleaning guide provides information on cleaning and disinfecting for PPE, including eye protection

Face shields

Face shields may be used as an alternative to goggles or safety glasses. A face shield is a clear plastic barrier that covers the face and eyes, extending to the ears on the sides and below the chin. 

Face shields can be single use or reusable and are generally recommended for use in health care or aged care settings where additional protection against splashes or sprays of body fluids and aerosol droplets is required. Face shields have gaps to the sides and to the bottom of the face shield that may allow viruses carried in respiratory droplets and aerosols to be released from an infectious person’s mouth and nose. 

The Infection Control Expert Group advises that face shields are to be worn with a mask underneath, to protect the person from inhaling the virus and prevent infectious people (if the person is unaware that they are infected) from spreading the COVID-19 virus onto others. They should also have an adjustable band to attach firmly around the head and fit snuggly against the forehead to ensure there is no gap between the wearer’s forehead and the shield’s headpiece.

Table 2 lists some advantages and disadvantages of using face shields as PPE for COVID-19.

Table 2: Advantages and disadvantages of using face shields*

Advantages    Disadvantages
Provides a broad and clear field of view.  Gaps on the sides and underneath the face shield may allow virus-contaminated respiratory droplets and aerosols to reach the eyes (or the nose and mouth if a well-fitted mask is not worn at the same time).
They provide additional protection to the face and mask from splashes or sprays of body fluids and aerosol droplets. Some face shields do not extend to the sides of head towards the ears. These are not as protective as other forms of eyewear. 
The wearer’s eyes can be seen more easily, which may help with communication with others.  Face shields may make communication more difficult by muffling the wearer’s voice, especially when used with a mask. 
There is less risk of fogging.   
The wearer is less likely to touch their face and mask.   

    
* Adapted from the Infection Control Expert Group Guidance on the use of PPE for health care workers in the context of COVID-19

Your employer must consult with you and any Health and Safety Representatives to before deciding if face shields are an appropriate COVID-19 control measure. 

If your employer determined that face shields are required to minimise the risks of COVID-19, they must also provide you with the appropriate training and instruction on their use and maintenance, including cleaning. 

More information

The Australian Government Department of Health has published a Coronavirus (COVID-19) face shields – a quick guide, which explains how to safely use face shields.

Our cleaning guide provides more information on cleaning and disinfecting for PPE, including eye protection.

Screens

Many businesses have chosen to protect workers by installing screens (also known as sneezes guards), commonly constructed from acrylic.

Screens can be considered at workplaces where workers are in close proximity to each other for long periods or for workers serving customers/patients (e.g. retail stores, supermarkets, pharmacies and doctor’s surgeries). 

Screens come in many different sizes and shapes and can be custom made for the workplace. Generally, they have a space cut out to allow for exchange between the worker and a member of the public, with the screen covering the upper half of the body and head. 

If your employer is considering installing a screen, they need to ensure that the screen is fit for purpose and provides adequate protection to you from droplet spray while allowing you to work safely. Your employer should also consider whether the screen would protect you from aerosol transmission and the effects of the screen on ventilation in the workplace. 

Your employer must consult with you and any Health and Safety Representatives to help identify any work health and safety risks that may affect you. Completing a risk assessment will assist your employer in deciding if and what kind of screen is appropriate as part of your workplace control measures. Be aware that installing a screen or multiple screens around a worker may result in communication difficulties between persons, and limiting or obstructing a worker’s movements which may cause physical discomfort and psychological risks. These should be discussed as part of the consultation process.

Your employer must also provide appropriate training and instruction to you if they decide to install them. 

Screens should be cleaned and disinfected in the same manner as other frequently handled objects or surfaces. Our cleaning guide provides more information on cleaning and disinfecting, including for specific surfaces. 

How do I handle and dispose of single use PPE?

It is important to be mindful of how you dispose of your PPE. Your PPE may have been contaminated with the COVID-19 virus carried in respiratory droplets and aerosols. When removing and disposing single use PPE, this is when you could accidently infect yourself or others.

When disposing your PPE, you should:

  • Have a consistent sequence so that this can become routine.
  • Take your time, don't rush.
  • Always perform hand hygiene prior to removing any PPE from your face (e.g. masks) and after disposing any PPE.
  • Ensure your PPE avoids contact with other surfaces when disposing.

Single use PPE can be disposed of with the general waste, preferably into a closed bin containing two bin liners to ensure the waste is double bagged. Double bagging minimises any exposure to the person disposing the waste. 

A closed bin is a bin with a fitted lid, preferably one that does not need to be touched to place the PPE inside. A bin with a foot pedal or other hands-free mechanism to open the lid would be appropriate. Where a closed bin is not available, PPE should be placed in a sealed bag before disposal into the bin. The sealed bag and a single bin liner are considered equivalent to double bagging. 

It is important to follow good hand hygiene after removing and disposing of your PPE. Hands should be washed with soap and water for 20 seconds or cleaned with alcohol-based hand sanitiser containing at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol. 

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