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Fair Work Commission rules – a clean shave is not burdensome.


Industry employers are all too familiar with the risks associated with working with hazardous materials. The implementation of effective Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is therefore critical to safeguarding the health, safety, and well-being of their employees. A recent ruling by the Fair Work Commission (FWC) highlights the significance of PPE protocols in mitigating occupational hazards and ensuring worker safety.

Recent decision by the Fair Work Commission

TasWater, a utility provider, sought FWC approval to enforce a revised PPE policy and procedure which now requires workers to be clean-shaven when undertaking work which requires the use of protective equipment, namely respiratory protective equipment (RPE). A requirement that was previously implied but not consistently enforced. The Communication, Electrical, Electronic, Energy, Information, Postal, Plumbing and Allied Services Union of Australia (CEPU) argued against the revised policy’s reasonableness and accused TasWater of inadequately consulting with workers on the policy change.

The rationale behind TasWater’s initiative to change their policy lies in the need to protect their workers from exposure to airborne hazardous substances that when inhaled, can lead to severe illnesses such as silicosis or asbestosis, underscoring the critical importance of effective respiratory protection.

Clean shaven – not burdensome

In support of TasWater’s actions, the Deputy President emphasized that a requirement for a ‘clean-shaven face’ is not unduly burdensome considering the life-threatening risks associated with inadequately fitted respiratory protection. The Deputy President further commented the direction given by TasWater to its employees to comply with the revised policy in its entirety, is reasonable.

The decision reaffirms TasWater’s, and all employers’, obligation under relevant work health and safety laws and regulations to provide employees with appropriate PPE that effectively minimises risks to their health and safety.

Balancing act

The ruling also reflects the careful balance between employee rights, safety obligations and what is considered reasonably practicable. While the CEPU advocated for alternative solutions such as powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs) the reasonableness of such a measure was challenged and was maintained by TasWater as not practicable due to cost, maintenance, and safety concerns.

Key takeaways

The FWC’s decision reaffirms the fundamental role of PPE in safeguarding employee health and reminds us all of the responsibility to prioritize safety measures in the workplace. Policies, and procedure particularly those concerned with health and safety should be reviewed and refreshed to reflect any changes in work conditions and legislation changes.

Where changes are required, it is necessary to review any applicable agreements or Awards which may impose employee consultation prior to the implementation of any policy or procedural change. Employers are encouraged to collaborate with employees to ensure the development of robust safety protocols that mitigate occupational hazards effectively.

Need more?

If you need advice or assistance in reviewing your policies or procedures, the Workplace Relations and Legal team are here to help. Contact the team on 02 6175 5900.