In 2018/19, more than 28.2 million working days were lost due to work-related illness and work-place injury, according to a report by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). UK government figures also show that for the same period around 581 000 workers sustained non-fatal injuries, while 1.4 million suffered from work related ill-health. These statistics do not include illnesses such as lung conditions, which often present themselves years later.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be considered the last resort when looking at ways to minimise risks to your workforce. It is only appropriate where the hazard cannot be fully removed or controlled so that harm from injury or ill health is unlikely. There are several reasons for this:
PPE protects only the person using it, whereas measures controlling the risk at source protect everyone in the workplace
Full levels of protection are not always achieved using PPE due to factors such as poor fit, or failure to wear it. Effective protection can only be achieved by PPE which is correctly fitted, maintained and properly used at all times.
PPE may restrict the wearer by limiting mobility and visibility
Why don’t people wear it?
- Looks unattractive
- Poor fit
- No one else wears it; no one’s monitoring
- Uncomfortable; too hot
- Not readily available
- Incompatibility with other PPE
- Poor culture or training
What does the law say?
Employers must provide PPE free of charge. Employees have a legal obligation to wear it and maintain it, so if damaged it must be replaced. As an employer you must make sure your employees are using/wearing PPE correctly. PPE needs to be suitable for the task.
Noise above 80 decibels can affect hearing. Noise above 85 decibels could permanently affect hearing. While advances in technology has meant that equipment is quieter and smoother, some activities such as using an air saw will, most of the time, exceed this. 85 Decibels sounds like a truck passing by as you’re stood on the pavement. Hearing protection must be made available at 80 decibels and must be worn at 85 decibels. Hearing loss can take years to develop – prevention is better than cure. Ear defenders are the best option.
Some disposable plugs can achieve the same results so check the protection rating – and care must be taken to avoid infection when inserting into the ears.
Eye and face protection
There are two types of eye protection to safeguard against impact injuries or contact with chemicals. Make sure both are available. Ordinary glasses do not fully protect the eyes; protection must be able to fit over them.
Face shields and Hand protection
Depending on the task, different types of gloves may be required. Nitrile disposable gloves are useful for contact with oils and dust, but not suitable for gun cleaning/parts cleaning or carrying out air-con tasks. Anti-vibration gloves do not always reduce vibration. It’s often more important to keep hands warm and dry, which will help with other control measures such as reduced exposure time. Welding gauntlets should be available, and heavy-duty gloves to help with manual handling activities. MET employees are more likely to encounter sharp objects, so a different type of protection must be used which has a higher cut resistance.
Don’t forget basic hand care, regular washing, using barrier creams and moisturising will all minimise skin conditions such as dermatitis. Make sure these are available with hot/cold water and a means to dry hands.
Footwear and clothing
Safety footwear with toe protection should include anti-static soles, particularly if working in a spray booth with a full metal floor extraction. Rigger boots must never be worn by welders as sparks can often fall into the boot. Normal work wear is not classed as PPE. Cotton and flame-retardant overalls and disposable overalls offer protection only against specific hazards.
Statistics show that a spray painter is up to 90 times more likely to suffer from occupational asthma. Body filler dust and diesel exhaust fumes can also cause ill health effects. Many technicians wear the wrong mask, or one that does not fit properly, which allows the contaminants to be inhaled.
Air-fed or battery powered masks are the best option, but condition checks must be made monthly. Breathing air quality needs to be checked and extraction equipment installed to ensure vehicles can be painted without risk to health. Disposable face fume/dust masks do not always fit correctly due to poor size/ selection. The edge of the mask must follow the contour of the face without gaps. Facial hair, weight loss/gain or dental work can all affect the fit of a mask.
Cartridge masks will fit better as they have a good seal and can be adjusted. These masks will need to be replaced every four to six weeks depending on use, while those with replaceable cartridges must be changed in line with use and manufacturer instructions – and be recorded.
In February 2019, the HSE issued a safety alert stating that exposure to mild steel welding fumes can cause lung cancer and possibly kidney cancer, among other conditions. Make sure that masks fit under the welding helmet – if you choose a disposable mask it is unlikely to fully protect the wearer.
Face fit-testing will determine whether employees are wearing the correct fit of mask:
Particle filter masks (FFP2) have finer filtration and are suitable for body filler dust.
Cartridge/filter masks (FFP3) are suitable for welding, soldering, aerosol paints, upholstery protection, paint fumes, panel wiping or cleaning up solvent spillages.