Religious or cultural attire and health and safety

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) does not exempt workers from wearing personal protective equipment on religious or cultural grounds.

People at work, or at a workplace, should not be exposed to increased risks because their religious or cultural attire makes eliminating or reducing risk difficult.

Workers may have religious or cultural concerns about how they can meet HSWA's requirements. They should discuss these concerns with their supervisor or health and safety representative.

Managing risk

Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBUs) should engage with their workers on ways to eliminate or manage risk. Any solution depends on the specific issue. The issue will influence how best to eliminate or manage the risk.

Some examples to manage risk are:

  • taping or covering jewellery
  • wearing overalls, hair or head coverings rather than banning particular attire
  • using alternative safety equipment, eg earplugs instead of ear muffs or face masks that accommodate beards
  • the person not performing a particular task or entering a particular risk area.

If the PCBU and worker cannot agree to a resolution, this could lead to an employment issue. If the PCBU and worker aren't in a direct employment relationship, there could be a contractual issue. In these situations, the parties should seek advice from an appropriate employment or legal adviser.

More about your duties and responsibilities

HSWA puts duties and responsibilities on PCBUs and workers to keep everyone at work healthy and safe.

Workers need to: 

  • take reasonable care for their own health and safety
  • follow reasonable instructions relating to health and safety at the workplace and
  • not do anything to endanger themselves or others at the workplace.

PCBUs need to: 

  • magage risks to workers to the extent it is reasonably practical 
  • give workers a reasonable chance to contribute to decisions relating to health and safety.

This means in most cases a PCBU will need to place their workers' health and safety ahead of any concerns about religious or cultural attire.