Sikhs and head protection
Early 2014 saw the HSE publish a consultation document outlining proposals to amend the provisions of s.11 of the Employment Act 1989 to extend the exemption on the wearing of head protection by turban-wearing Sikhs to areas other than construction sites.
The consultation followed representations which highlighted a legislative anomaly therefore HSE, on behalf of the Minister for Disabled People and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, proposed to make an amendment to extend the exemption in s.11 of the 1989 Act so that turban-wearing Sikhs in any industry would be made exempt from the need to wear head protection, and to extend the limited liability provisions of that exemption to their employers.
Sections 6 and 7 of the Deregulation Act 2015 make amendments to sections 11 and 12 of the Employment Act 1989, and to Articles 13 and 13A of the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1990 so that turban-wearing Sikhs may be exempt from legal requirements to wear a safety helmet in all workplaces, either as workers or visitors, subject to certain exclusions.
The existing exemption is limited to construction sites and this has led to problems for turban-wearing Sikhs in other areas, where the risk from falling objects is likely to be lower.
The exemption relates only to head protection and only to turban-wearing Sikhs. It does not extend to those Sikhs who do not wear turbans or who wear other types of personal protective equipment.
Stephen Simpson, XpertHR principal employment law editor, says: “Employers with Sikh employees may already have had to deal with this sensitive issue.
“The key problem is having to balance health and safety needs with the employee’s right to express their religious beliefs freely, to avoid the risk of an indirect race or religious discrimination claim. This new rule at least provides certainty for employers.
“Employers don’t need to panic just yet, as they have plenty of time to review their rules on dress codes and protective equipment. Contrary to some press reports, the new law is not yet in force. Although the Deregulation Act received Royal Assent on 26 March, the secondary legislation does not bring the relevant sections of the Act into force until 1 October.”
Selecting Suitable Head Protection
For workers that must use head protection, the correct equipment must be chosen for its suitability and for the level of protection required. It must also fit correctly. Safety helmets, bump caps and climbing helmets must fit the wearer well and should:
- Be an appropriate shell size for the wearer
- Have an easily adjustable headband, nape and chin straps (if relevant).
The range of size adjustment should allow for the use of thermal liners in cold weather. Helmets should also be as comfortable as possible; this can be improved by including:
- A flexible headband that is wide enough and contoured both vertically and horizontally to fit the forehead
- An absorbent sweatband, that can be easily cleaned or replaced
- Textile (rather than plastic) cradle straps.
Where chin straps are used they should:
- Not cross the ears
- Be compatible with any other items of PPE that may be worn
- Be fitted with smooth, quick release buckles or fittings that do not dig into the skin
- Be made from non-irritant materials
- Be able to be stowed on the helmet or easily removed if not required