The standard question comes up: "If people don't want to wear PPE, can they sign a waiver?"
The short answer to this is "No".
- The employer has an obligation under Section 2 of HSAW to take care for the safety of his employees and others who may be affected by his operations.
- The employee has an obligation under Section 7 of HSAW to co-operate with the employer in the measures that the employer has put in place to meet his Section 2 duty.
If the control measure means the wearing of PPE, then the employee has no choice.
However, the real point is that you must be able to "sell" the control measures to the employees. If there is no real risk that needs controlling by PPE, then people believe PPE to be unnecessary and you'll have trouble enforcing it. Really, you're not improving safety, you're afraid of litigation.
Let's just have a look at the 2 cases this week:
Case 1: Engineering company.
This company uses a variety of machinery. Some can throw off particles, others inherently do not or operations are within an enclosure. Applicable machines have eye-protection pictograms. A previous MD brought in the policy of wearing eye-protection throughout the entire factory area. The new MD stated that this was difficult to enforce. (I couldn't personally sell the need to wear it whilst walking along a walkway several metres from a machine.)
We reverted to the original policy; the employer is still meeting his Section 2 duty and the employees are no longer in breach of their section 7 duty.
Case 2: Printing company.
This company carries out fairly lightweight sheet-fed litho and digital printing and associated finishing operations. It stated that safety footwear must be worn and provided this. Some people found it uncomfortable.
For the majority of operations, the risk of foot injury from dropped material is very low, and therefore you could quite easily justify not requiring safety footwear to be worn, only sensible footwear, ie no open-toed shoes. If this were an engineering company where heavy or sharp objects could be dropped, then safety footwear is essential, the employer would have to provide this under Section 2 and the employees would have to wear it under Section 7. In this case, it may be that the employer could justify that the risk is very low and therefore there would be no breaches of Sections 2 or 7.
Personally, I wear safety footwear at all times when on client premises for the following reasons:
- Some clients insist on it,
- Some operations have risks where I judge it necessary, even if the client does not,
- It is smart and comfortable,
- I have to wear shoes and why not use shoes where the cost is tax-deductable?
Of course, you must remember that PPE is the last-ditch control measure. You should be using other measures so far as is reasonably practiucal.