PPE - Playing A Vital Role
…there were 71 fatal injuries to construction workers in 2004/2005, accounting for 32% of all worker deaths.
The Health and Safety Executive
Electrical contractors face a number of hazards when working on site, from refit work in a house to major infrastructure work such as Heathrow Terminal 5. Apart from the obvious risk of electrocution, there are also moving vehicles, working at height, hazardous items such as nails on the floor and falling objects, to name but a few.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) there were 71 fatal injuries to construction workers in 2004/2005, accounting for 32% of all worker deaths. Although this is the lowest figure in the past 13 years, it is clear that health and safety must remain a top priority for all contractors.
Where a risk to health and safety is identified, the first priority is to eliminate it by providing safer alternatives, to provide collective protection — for example barrier rails — or by changing the working method. If it is not possible to achieve the required degree of protection through these means, then Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needs to be considered.
PPE can play a vital role in keeping workers safe from harm. The definition of PPE is all equipment which is intended to be worn or held by a person at work to protect him or her against one or more risks to their health and safety. It is a broad category comprising a range of head–to–toe equipment. Typical products used by contractors are hard hats, ear defenders, safety footwear, safety glasses/goggles, gloves, high visibility clothing, fall arrest equipment and respirators. PPE can obviously be used in conjunction with wider health and safety items such as lock out systems and tags.
In 2004/2005, 27% of major injuries to construction employees resulted from a slip or trip and falling from a height accounted for 25%.
The consequences of wearing non–compliant PPE obviously depend on a number of circumstances, for example the job being undertaken, the identified hazard and the equipment being used, and are all too obvious; they can lead to serious injury or even death.
In 2004/2005, 27% of major injuries to construction employees resulted from a slip or trip and falling from a height accounted for 25%. The next two most common kinds, were being injured while handling, lifting or carrying and being hit by moving or falling objects.
As well as the personal consequences, claims, litigation and a reduction in work output and effectiveness can result from injuries. According to the HSE, the combined estimate of the number of days lost due to workplace injury and work–related ill health in the construction industry was 3.2 million — so preventative action is very important. For example the wearing of protective gloves can reduce the risk of minor hand injuries which can affect precision and overall effectiveness.Start of page
Adhering to the relevant health and safety legislation is vital. The law is constantly changing and it is crucial to stay up to date, for example the regulations around working at height have recently changed from requiring protection when working over 2m and above, to protection being required at any height where you could fall. And this area of the law is very actively policed by the HSE.
According to the HSE…
…in any client/contractor relationship, both parties will have duties under health and safety law. Similarly, if the contractor employs sub–contractors to carry out work, all parties will have some responsibilities, the extent of which will depend on the circumstances.
To give a flavour of some of the relevant legislation, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) sets out employers’ obligations to ensure their activities do not put their employees, contractors or the general public in danger. Employers have a duty of care to protect their employees’ and contractors health and safety, and if they fail to do so, they can be held responsible for injuries or death caused through their negligence.
In addition to this legislation, the “Six Pack” of UK Regulations implements a range of relevant European Directives. Included in the “Six Pack” is the PPE at Work Regulations 1992 which place duties on employers towards their employees, and on the self employed in respect of their own safety, to ensure that, where necessary, PPE is provided. In a nutshell, they require that employees are given the correct protection for the tasks they are performing, and ensure that a full assessment has been carried out to make sure the PPE is suitable for the application, instructions/training have been provided on how to use it and the equipment is properly maintained and stored.
If an employer does not issue PPE when it is needed, it is perfectly reasonable for an employee to ask for it. It is the employers’ duty to provide PPE and they are breaking the law if they do not offer the PPE required for an employee to carry out their job safely. Under section 9 of the HSWA, employers can’t charge for PPE used only at work.
Contractors employed by an outside company are treated as employees as above. In addition, it is the responsibility of the client company to ensure the contractor’s employer is aware of any risks to its employees so the appropriate action can be taken.
As far as self employed contractors are concerned, it is the employer’s responsibility to provide comprehensible information on the health and safety risks that the contractor may be exposed to and it is the contractors’ responsibility to adhere to the site health and safety plan, and where necessary, provide their own PPE.
For further information about health and safety legislation see www.hse.gov.uk or call the info line on 0845 345 0055.Start of page
Assessing the risk
In order to decide what protection is required on a particular site, a risk assessment looking at the site, the work being carried out and the associated hazards is necessary. The HSE provides advice on how to assess risks in the workplace to help companies comply with the law, see www.hse.gov.uk .
It is vital that PPE products suit the identified hazards and there is a large range of PPE available to make this easier. The risk assessment should identify the hazard, for example a dusty environment or working at height, and then identify and suggest the appropriate PPE, for example a respirator, eye protection and fall arrest equipment. When assessing items such as protective gloves or footwear for example, the voltage and conditions in which the hazard exists must be considered to ensure the correct level of protection as well as maximum product performance.
Clearly, different environments require different types of PPE, and even though the law may not require a specific item to be worn, an employer may decide to enforce its use, for example some employees must wear high–vis jackets or safety boots while at work. Generally speaking we are seeing greater enforcement of health and safety regulations, often implemented by site managers who are becoming stricter in terms of what needs to be worn in order to work. In a growing number of cases, workers aren’t allowed to even set foot on the site without particular items, for example a hard hat and safety footwear.
In addition the client, the owner of the building or land which forms the site, is legally obligated to provide a health and safety plan which must be adhered to by the contractor.Start of page
Look smart, work smart
As well as compliance with health and safety requirements, there has also been a marked move towards ‘look smart, work smart’. Contractors who are making the purchasing decision know they are going to be wearing these products day in, day out, and they want to be comfortable. Some PPE is designed specifically with comfort in mind, for example knee pads. At the end of the day, people are likely to be less productive if they are wearing uncomfortable work wear.
To reflect this, there has been a shift away from cheaper budget ranges, towards more durable, better quality, more comfortable PPE with added features and benefits, for example breathable, lightweight and waterproof fabric.
The market is moving quickly in terms of advances in textiles, with manufacturers investing heavily in research and development to keep ahead of the competition. Hot areas for innovation at the moment are fire resistance, anti–static and breathability, with some manufacturers positioning themselves in niche areas and partnering with other specialist brands.
We are also seeing a trend for high–vis clothing and hard hats being branded with company logos. Not only does this give a professional image, it makes identification of people on site easier, i.e. if someone walked into a site who shouldn’t be there. With high–vis clothing, as long as the print is no more than a certain size and on certain parts of the garment, which do not encroach on the reflective tape, it does not affect its compliance with the relevant quality standards.
Style is also increasing in importance with many items of PPE having a fashion element as well as a practical one. Take safety eyewear and footwear for example, which are becoming more stylish reflecting fashion trends on the high street — many contractors want to look smart as well as work safely.Start of page
Quality is a key issue for anyone making the purchase decision. Although cost is always going to be a consideration, purchasers should never compromise on quality. When working with electricity, at height or on a site which requires head protection — why take the risk and purchase substandard products which do not conform to the relevant standards?
There is a multitude of performance standards for PPE depending on the product, its application and the protection level you want to conform to. The quality of a product is linked, for example, to an ISO9002. As mentioned above, the Personal Protective Equipment At Work Regulations 1992 requires that all PPE should comply with the PPE (EC Directive) Regulations 1992. As such, products must comply with wide ranging safety requirements and be subjected to a type examination or ongoing examinations by an approved body. For example, protective gloves for high voltage electrical work must conform to BS EN60903.
For high–vis clothing, BS En471:2003 highlights the minimum amount of surface area of background material and reflective tape should be used to comply with the different classifications of the standard, the minimum performance of the reflective tape and how the reflective tapes could be positioned. In addition to conforming to this standard, all high–vis clothing needs to be tested and certified by an independent test house.
It can sometimes be difficult for a purchaser to look at a product and tell whether it conforms to the appropriate standards. To help, all PPE has to be marked and supplied with data sheets regarding standards etc. Purchases should always be made through a reputable company who can provide information about the standards the product meets, and help and advise you.Start of page
‘Doing what it says on the tin’ is crucial, especially when it comes to items which protect workers against serious hazards such as contaminated air or electrocution. The nature of the equipment means it must perform and be used as stated. Therefore the materials used in the manufacturing process need to maintain specific performance levels. Purchasers need to look at functionality and quality together to ensure they get the performance they are looking for.
As all PPE is susceptible to wear and tear, it should be checked before use and stored safely as instructed when not. Some is required to be serviced on a regular basis, for example protective gloves for high voltage work need to be periodically re–tested to guard against performance loss through degradation of the latex rubber they are made from, and fall protection products need to be carefully maintained.
Others, such as overalls or high–vis garments, are not subject to this kind of regulation and their cleaning or replacement is generally left to the employer, employee or contractor to decide. High–vis can get dirty quickly, requiring frequent cleaning and/or replacement. Any damage to the garment can affect its performance, and the reflective tape and background materials have a limited wash life. Items like safety eyewear and hard hats should be replaced if they have been struck by an object or suffered any sort of damage in case the integrity of the product has been affected.Start of page
PPE is a vital element in the health and safety mix which should never be underestimated. Although health and safety is a huge and complex subject, there are a number of resources at hand, including the HSE, to help guide you through what can sometimes seem quite a maze. You need to be up to speed on the relevant law.
Contractors need to ensure that their employer, where appropriate, is fulfilling its obligations to provide the necessary PPE. For self employed contractors, with so many products on the market, it is important to take time when purchasing PPE to ensure the right product for the job. Although cost will always be a factor, never compromise quality. At the end of the day, it could save your life.Start of page