Head Protection for Sikhs wearing turbans
This guidance sets out the approach to take when inspecting workplaces of any kind where the work involves significant risk of head injury and where turban-wearing Sikhs work.
This guidance applies to all workplaces and activities where turban-wearing Sikhs at work are at significant risk of head injury.
Inspectors need to ensure that employers have measures in place which comply with requirements for head protection and which do not, at the same time, lead to discrimination against turban-wearing Sikhs or create barriers to their employment.
Construction differs from other industries because there is a provision in the Employment Act 1989 (see Appendix 2) which exempts turban-wearing Sikhs from any requirement to wear head protection when working on construction sites.
At all workplaces
- check the adequacy of the employer’s assessment of the risks of head injury arising from the work being carried out;
- pay particular attention to the measures the employer has put in place to provide protection against the risks of head injury assessed as significant;
- where turban-wearing Sikhs are exposed to such risks, check that:
- the employer has done as much as practicable to control those risks by means other than the need to wear head protection; and
- those controls are sufficient to minimise the risks sufficiently so that it is not necessary for turban-wearing Sikhs to wear head protection in addition to the protection afforded by their turbans;
- where, after other controls are in place, there remains a significant residual risk of head injury and head protection would normally be a necessary additional protection for workers, ensure that the employer’s procedures for controlling the exposure of turban-wearing Sikhs to those residual risks cover the following alternatives:
- the suitability of the head protection provided if turban-wearing Sikhs are prepared voluntarily to wear it; or
- the controls the employer has in place for re-deploying them away from exposure to those residual risks, and/or preventing them from entering areas of such risk if they are not prepared to wear head protection.
At construction sites
On most construction sites, there will almost always be a significant risk of a head injury. At construction sites at which turban-wearing Sikhs are working, inspectors should, in addition to the actions set out in the previous section, check that employers:
- understand the need to comply with the exemption in section 11(1) of the Employment Act 1989 from wearing head protection for turban-wearing Sikhs working on construction sites;
- provide sufficient protection for turban-wearing Sikhs against a significant risk of head injury;
- comply with all other health and safety requirements to ensure working practices are safe and to minimise the risk of head injury to turban-wearing Sikhs.
In accordance with their religion, baptised Sikhs are required to wear their hair uncut and wrapped in a turban. This article of faith potentially brings them into conflict with legal provisions requiring head protection to be worn in workplaces where there are risks of head injury arising from the work undertaken. This potential conflict does not arise where Sikhs choose not to wear turbans.
The requirements for providing and using head protection are set out in the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 1992 (the PPE Regulations) as amended on 6 April 2013 by the Health and Safety (Miscellaneous Repeals, Revocations and Amendments) Regulations 2013. See Appendix 1 for further details.
The exemption from wearing head protection for turban-wearing Sikhs working on construction sites (contained in the Employment Act 1989) now applies to the PPE Regulations. There is no such exemption for other religious groups or for Sikhs who choose not to wear a turban. See Appendix 2 for further details.
There are no special visits or other organisational requirements.
Cross Cutting Interventions Directorate - Work Environment, Radiation and Gas Division;
Construction Division – Construction Policy and Sector Unit
Appendix 1: Relevant Health and Safety Provisions
From 6 April 2013 the only Regulations imposing specific requirements relating to wearing head protection are the PPE Regulations. Previously the Construction (Head Protection) Regulations 1989 also applied. These were revoked on this date and the scope of the PPE Regulations was amended, applying them to wearing head protection on construction sites.
The PPE Regulations provide that personal protective equipment (‘PPE’) must be supplied (regulation 4) and used (regulation 10) at work wherever there are risks to health and safety that cannot be adequately controlled by other means which are equally or more effective (regulation 6).
PPE should only be used as a last resort. Employers should follow a hierarchy of control measures to protect workers from head injury. Only after other controls have been applied and there remains a risk to health and safety which can be controlled by PPE should PPE be provided and used. Where there is more than one type of residual risk, the PPE provided must be compatible with each other (regulation 5).
Any workers (other than turban-wearing Sikhs working on construction sites) refusing to wear head protection (or other required and appropriate PPE) would be in breach of the PPE Regulations, regulation 10 and the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, section 7, except where the use of PPE would not provide protection against any residual risk.
The Courts apply the PPE Regulations strictly. Where there is a risk that is more than minimal which cannot be adequately controlled, the employer must provide suitable protective equipment and the protective equipment needs to be effective at controlling the risk (Threlfal v Hull CC  EWCA Civ 1147).
Appendix 2: Exemption in Employment Act 1989
Turban-wearing Sikhs are exempt from the need to comply with other legislation that would require them to wear head protection whilst on a construction site, by virtue of sections 11 & 12 of the Employment Act 1989 (the Act). The exemption in section 11(1) of the Act says:
“Any requirement to wear a safety helmet which …would, by virtue of any statutory provision or rule of law, be imposed on a Sikh who is on a construction site shall not apply to him at any time when he is wearing a turban”
This means that turban-wearing Sikhs on construction sites are exempt from the duty under regulation 10(2) of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 (PPE Regulations) so far as it applies to head protection. Furthermore, turban-wearing Sikhs do not have to comply with the general duty under section 7(b) of HSW Act to co-operate with their employer so far as is necessary to enable the employer to comply with the duties placed on them, such as those contained in the PPE Regulations.
Section 11(2) of the Act also exempts turban-wearing Sikhs and any other persons from any legal requirements connected with wearing, providing or maintaining safety helmets in relation to turban-wearing Sikhs on construction sites. As a result, employers are relieved of their duties to a turban-wearing Sikh on a construction site under regulations 4 and 6 to 12 of the PPE Regulations.
Sections 11(4) to 11(6) of the Act set out the civil liability position when the above exemptions are in operation, and section 12 of the Act protects turban-wearing Sikhs from racial discrimination in connection with requirements to wear safety helmets.