Need-to-know protective equipment steps

A leading standards certifier is urging employers and site managers in the agriculture, construction, resources and manufacturing industries to evaluate the effectiveness of personal protective equipment for their employees. The recommendation comes in an environment where many suppliers and retailers are continuing to offer protective equipment that fails to meet rigorous Australian safety standards.

With many presuming that all safety products such as hard hats, safety glasses, respirator masks, hearing protectors, fall arrestors and safety footwear meet mandatory requirements, the company behind the Five Ticks StandardsMark certification, SAI Global, cautions this is not always the case.

SAI Global’s team leader Health and Safety, Product Services Richard Donarski says that despite there being various Australian Standards (sometimes optional) for safety equipment, some manufacturers and suppliers may not comply with them, and others are ignorant of them, particularly when a product is developed overseas.

“It’s a common misconception that all personal safety items are subject to and must meet mandatory standards. The reality is, as many standards aren’t legislated, manufacturers choose not to apply standards to their processes. The consequence is that the very products designed to keep us safe may not necessarily do their jobs as expected.”

Richard Donarski provides five tips to choosing personal protective equipment:

  1. Ask an expert. While all equipment looks the same, it doesn’t necessarily mean it does the job. For example, a particular respirator mask may only be compatible with certain chemicals. When unsure, ask the supplier and provide exact details of what the equipment will be used for. If ordering online, call or submit an enquiry.
  2. Purchase certified safety equipment only. This equipment will be branded with an appropriate certification mark, the Australian Standard reference, and should include the name of the organization, the date it was certified and a Certification Licence number. Be aware that not all products that claim to be certified are to an Australian standard. To be safe, look for the Five Ticks ‘Certified Product’ StandardsMark or enter the Certification Licence number online at to source details.
  3. Be careful when buying second hand. Do you really know what that piece of equipment has been through? For example, a hard hat may look okay but if it’s been left out in the sun, the chances are that its protection is nowhere near the level it should be due. Second hand equipment may come with zero instructions.
  4. Double check all sizes. A hard hat or safety harness that’s 1mm too small can be life threatening should an incident occur. Check all sizes with employees before placing orders and, once the products arrive, test that they fit accordingly.
  5. Renew and evaluate equipment regularly. Setting a calendar reminder to evaluate and renew equipment every few months isn’t enough. Some tasks are larger than others and, if an employee has been working on an intense job, their protective gear may become ineffective at a quicker rate.