Under the previous law, Sikhs wearing turbans have not been required to wear motorcycle helmets and Sikhs working in the construction industry have been exempted from rules requiring cranial protection: see s 16(2) Road Traffic Act 1988 and ss 11 & 12 Employment Act 1989. For school pupils there is Mandla v Dowell Lee  UKHL 7 – and the Horses (Protective Headgear for Young Riders) Regulations 1992 exempt a Sikh child under 14 years old from the requirement under the Horses (Protective Headgear for Young Riders) Act 1990 to wear a protective helmet when riding a horse on the road if he is wearing a turban. However, Sikhs working in less dangerous industries such as in factories and warehouses have not until now been exempt – which means that Sikhs in many jobs who chose to wear a turban rather than the required head protection risked disciplinary action or dismissal.
The Government has announced that turban-wearing Sikhs now have the right to choose not to wear head protection and will be exempt from legal requirements to wear a safety helmet in the majority of workplaces. Ss 6 & 7 of the Deregulation Act 2015, which came into force on 1 October, have extended the existing exemption in the Employment Act to all workplaces, with certain qualifications:
- should an individual suffer injuries as a consequence of not wearing head protection, employers will be legally protected through the extension of limited liability; and
- there are exclusions for emergency response services and the military, which apply only in hazardous operational situations when wearing a safety helmet is considered necessary – for example, when entering a burning building or activities such as bomb disposal or dealing with hazardous materials in situations where protective clothing needs to enclose the whole body.
The Government says that the exclusions will not bar Sikhs from the armed forces or police and fire services and will make no blanket ban on participation by turban-wearing Sikhs: according to the Government, there are currently about 4,000 Sikhs serving in the police and 230 across the armed forces. The change was welcomed by the Sikh Council UK.