by Sarah Blackman

zoomNets can be used to eliminate fall hazards but personal protective equipment should also be used when working at height.next »In order to prevent injuries or fatalities at work, companies should go out of their way to reduce hazards wherever possible. Where there is the slightest risk that someone could get hurt, personal protective equipment should always be used, as experts tell Facilities Management Middle East.

The dangers associated with a workplace vary from minor to extreme. From a scratch and scrape caused by a garden tool to a broken neck caused by a 200ft fall from a high-rise building, hazards can be found anywhere.

Without question, these hazards should be addressed and eliminated from a working environment before a job begins, but whenever there are risks involved, it is better to protect ourselves with the correct safety gear than be sorry later.
Of course, personal protective equipment (PPE) cannot stop dangerous incidences from occurring, but it can determine the outcome of an accident.

“A safety harness cannot prevent a fall, but it can prevent falling to the ground. A helmet cannot prevent falling material, but it can protect one’s head against it,” explains Ray Tamal, business development manager for Miller, a personal protective solutions provider for safety at height.

Risk assessment

The types of risks that should be considered in a workplace are mechanical (cutting, abrasion and shocks), thermal, chemical, biological or physical (noise and radiation). These risks can stem from using hand tools or heavy machinery, putting out a fire, cleaning a swimming pool, changing a lightbulb, wiring, maintaining the guttering and many more hands-on jobs, most of which are related to facilities management and MEP works.

These days when it comes to providing maintenance services, workers have to be multi-tasking. So how do we determine which types of equipment employees should be using from job to job?

The protective equipment required for a particular occupation is dependent on the level of risks involved in the job at hand, and all of these risks should be assessed by a health and safety manager. If a worker is hammering a nail into a wall, for example, a metallic mid-sole of a safety shoe would help them to avoid a puncture that could result from stepping on a nail.

“Some models have additional features like a heat-resistant outsole, water-repellent leather, anti-static and oil resistance,” continues Delta Plus Middle East key accounts manager David Jerromes. “Risk assessments should take into consideration the work environment (climate, breathing conditions, landscape configuration, floor type, height of work), tools involved, presence of hazardous products and vehicle movements.”

As well as safety hazards that physically injure workers, health hazards can also be found at work, which can result in the development of diseases, deafness, blindness and lung damage caused by long periods of exposure to dust, fumes and noise, etc. Thus the duration of work should be taken into account during a risk assessment to determine the type of PPE, and which should be used.

“If the hazard is dust, then you need to wear a respirator with a filter that is appropriate for that type of dust, or wear a respirator connected to a source of breathing air,” says 3M Gulf country business leader of safety, security and protection services Wajid Abbas.

A worker’s medical history and injury should also be taken into account before they are exposed to a harsh working environment. Each job should be given its own solution; drivers should not wear the same kind of gloves as grinders or painters, for example.  In theory, PPE should protect a person from harm, but if an employer purchases the wrong type of equipment for a particular job, it will be rendered useless.

“Unfortunately, workers are often given the wrong PPE, such as a dust respirator when the hazard is a fume or vapour,” adds Abbas.

Correct standards

Companies should also check whether the equipment manufacturer has complied with the correct standards before purchasing equipment.

“All PPE is subject to European standards, and a valid test certificate should be provided. Furthermore, an EC ‘Declaration of Conformity’ should be provided, which states that the product has been tested and certified by an independently notified body,” explains Edward Bowen, project engineer for Marine Tech, a fall-protection specialist.

“We also recommend that the manufacturer of the products should work to, and hold, a valid ISO 9001 certificate.”

Compliance to such standards involves correct use of material, testing, labelling and inspection.

Standardisation mainly focuses on performance. When the risk is regarded as particularly high, tests and the resultant compliance by independent laboratories are all the more demanding. With EC certification, all PPE should display a ‘CE’ mark, and a user’s manual should be available from the manufacturer,” says Jerromes.

What is also crucial when it comes to protective gear is that the workers themselves know how to use it.

“It is no good providing a worker with a safety harness if the worker does not know how to wear it properly and how to clip it on safely so that he/she is protected. The most important element is education,” insists Bowen.

 
A safety harness can also kill the casualty who has fallen from a height if recovery is not conducted in a timely and efficient manner. Death in a harness is the result of ‘othostatic intolerance’, commonly referred to as suspension trauma. The system straps around a worker’s legs and prevents blood flow to the major organs. If the casualty is placed in the normal recovery position, the deoxygenated blood flows back to the major organs, which results in death from toxic shock.

Many manufacturers, however, offer systems which prevent suspension trauma from occurring.

“There could be a number of reasons why someone would need to access areas which could pose a fall hazard such as cleaning or maintenance of gutters, roofs or replacing skylights. We always recommend the use of an energy-absorbing lanyard, which is part of the PPE connection to the harness. The length of this lanyard will depend on the requirements of the user and the building itself,” says Bowen.

Energy-absorbing lanyards limit the impact of the harness on a person during a fall arrest.

Cost benefits

PPE isn’t just a solution for the worker, but for the employer as well. After all, safe conditions in a workplace result in increased productivity and the reduction of costs due to accidents.

For example, a lost-time injury will cost a developer from US$13,600 to US$27,200 (AED50,000 to AED100,000) in Dubai, and a fatality can come with a hefty price tag of up to US$136,000.

“It is much cheaper for contractors to prevent accidents from happening by giving labourers the security and the safety that they need to be able to go home at the end of the day,” says Combisafe sales manager Niklas Gustafsson.

Inspection

Like all systems, PPE doesn’t last forever, and eventually needs to be replaced.

According to Tamal, protective gear should be inspected before each shift. “PPEs are designed for maximum fail-safe when in use; hence all PPE must be inspected before each and every use. Moreover, the user must be competent in the inspection and use of PPE. This can be achieved by training and sharing of best practices and knowledge.”

Last resort

Despite the benefits of PPE, safety consultants and manufacturers of protective equipment still say that the equipment should be used as a last resort and that reducing the hazards within a working environment should be the number one priority on any employer’s list.

“The first thing that one should do is to eliminate the risk of a fall, and we are able to offer advice on how to do this. Where the risk still exists we will always try to offer a design solution where access to the fall risk is prevented, i.e. keeping the user in fall restraint,” says Bowen.

But Abbas says there is only so much a company can do when reducing hazards. “The truth is that jobs that require personal protective equipment carry inherent health and safety hazards. Therefore PPE is always a necessary part of the normal working environment.”

Similar Topics