Saturday, 18 August 2012

Working (safely) on the roads

Currently HSE is consulting with a wide variety of individuals and organisations in an attempt at improving the health and safety of workers involved in the paving and road repairing industries. Working groups are looking into the dangers posed by such work and at any means of overcoming most of the potential hazards. But without the co-operation of the UK workforce this well-meaning initiative will be doomed to failure.

It is of little use if level headed people, after much debate, come up with appropriate safety measures and Approved Codes of Practice if the workforce then blithely ignores the results. It is absolutely useless to pass laws that cannot be monitored or imposed, and that will always be the difficulty when trying to impose any health and safety legislation on transient sites. Unless someone stands over every worker in the UK for every working minute of every day, and that is never going to happen, then compliance with H&S laws is often a voluntary matter.

Looking at many small to medium construction sites and especially transient sites, the voluntary aspect of H&S is obviously being exercised by workers, but in totally the wrong way. I am a little tired of seeing operators using noisy machinery without the benefit of hearing protection, and I am fed up with being verbally abused by workers to whom I have offered a suggestion that they should wear suitable eye protection and face protection when using disc cutters at the roadside. Worse still is that their fellow workers are also being exposed to the same dangers as the operators, and yet nobody says or does anything to improve matters!
The fault obviously lies with the workers who choose to ignore any sensible suggestions about their own personal health and safety, but their employers, supervisors and managers all share an equal responsibility for not ensuring their workers take better care of themselves and their fellow workers.

The lack of supervision at transient road works is a given, but that does not make it right! If you are an employer you must emphasise to your workers that they need to improve their personal safety every day and in addition instigate a programme of health monitoring within your company. Catching a disease or affliction early will save time, money and lives, later on, so take a deep breath and the plunge. Talk to your H&S consultant or in-house ‘expert’, agree a new safety policy, involve staff members and get started today – in the long run it’ll save you loads of money!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The choice in yours!

Nobody can save you from yourself or from any bad decisions you may make, and that’s as it should be as long as any decisions you make apply only to yourself, but when a decision affects someone else, then that is different. Therefore if you are in a position where you make decisions about a worker’s health, it is vital you get it right!

Choosing PPE or RPE is often a matter of its cost price, rather than its performance. It shouldn’t be that way, but it often is! The time to change is now, with corporate manslaughter charges hovering in the background, the reclamation of charges to be introduced by HSE when action is needed later this year, and a universal wish of workers to go down the route of civil litigation for what they perceive to be an injustice, an employer’s position is more fraught than ever before.

Do it right, and being able to prove what you’ve done is the only way to go. This also means of course imposing a safety regime inside a company to ensure that all the good work you’ve done is not over-ridden by bad things being done by the workforce.

In the end, issuing correct and suitable PPE or RPE, even if initially costing a little more, is the right decision to take. Consulting so-called ‘experts’ may not prove cost effective and believing everything you hear from one or two suppliers may also cost you dear, so consult your trade body, take their advice on matters of health and safety and remember to stick to that advice, even if it looks to be a little over the top at first.

But the choice is yours!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Stick to it!

Having trained the operator, it is then essential of course to supply the correct type of RPE. I have previously mentioned the benefits (or not) of using a disposable half face respirator, and advised never to use a Nuisance Dust Mask for anything other than when you are in a workplace where dust is not actually being generated. Nuisance dust masks are not intended to protect operators who are generating dust!
Whilst it is relatively easy to find disposable half face respirators which cost only a couple of pounds, the fact that they are a one-time use respirator can make them a very expensive product or worse, if used improperly, a useless item of RPE. There are very few, if any, operators who use disposables half face respirators on only one occasion! Having seen, over the years, operators wearing disposable respirators, or rather not wearing them, the word disposable has been ignored or misinterpreted, in which case a ‘disposable’ respirator has often become a potentially dangerous item, with operators blithely unaware of the dangers to which they have become exposed.
So then, where does that leave us? Nuisance dust masks must not be thought of as genuine RPE, and disposable half face masks are not entirely without their problems (all man-made of course), the only true method of face protection is to use a non-disposable half face system, have your operatives properly face fit tested on that system and stick to it! Do not change the system, brand or type of respirators in mid-stream, and if you have operatives who have facial hair (a beard or a moustache or both) find another type of RPE suitable for him, her or them.
This does place a major responsibility on the purchasing manager or director and entails working closely with your supplier. No urgent orders of similar products are acceptable just to get out of trouble, no cheap deals of alternative makes of mask, no incorrect picking at the supplier’s premises. Decide on which respirator suits the majority of your workers and stick to it!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Good advice or training

To ensure workers are aware of the need to wear PPE and especially RPE, they need to be properly trained. This is an easy thing to say but may be much harder to organise. It’s not just a matter of finding the time for a course or courses but also of how much expense may be incurred.
Good training, training which is actually absorbed by the course candidates, may often be a state of mind. If the course candidates do not wish to learn and then change the way in which they operate, training may be useless and could be just a matter of complying with any legal requirements, and not of improving techniques or safety.
To ensure that operators actually take on board the information they are given and then operate to a much higher standard, is quite a challenge and may often be down to how professional the trainer is. Companies can of course organise in-house training carried by their own management or staff member, but in all seriousness this is not to be recommended. Standing up in front of an audience, especially one comprising people with whom you are familiar or even friendly, can be a very chastening experience. The best advice is to arrange for an outside training provider, even though it will cost. But do not just book the first training provider you find or indeed the cheapest – if possible check with other local companies or contacts to see what their experience has been, but of course do watch the cost!
It could also be worth giving consideration to undergoing online training for some aspects of health and safety via the HTA Rental Industry Training Scheme (RITS). Certainly with Apprenticeships only just becoming available again, the UK has generated knowledge and skills gap over the last few years which hasn’t yet been completely filled. Anything that can help plug that gap is to be applauded. What is most important about PPE and RPE training is that it results in healthier operators. – that is vital!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The guard problem!

The theme of my last Blog was based around the premise that many operators have little or no common sense. The operator I mentioned in my previous Blog was using a 230mm angle grinder without any PPE or RPE and since he was also using the 230mm diameter angle grinder for cutting, the guard that was fitted to the machine was incorrect being only suitable for grinding (it was a type 27 depressed centre grinding guard), he was in more danger than he could possibly know.
This guard problem happens to be the cause of a current complaint of mine in respect of the perceived lack of action by a whole group of companies and organisations including many of the major power tool companies, a number of abrasive accessory manufacturers, the power tool manufacturers association, the British Abrasive Federation and indeed HSE. All of these organisations are obviously aware that it is essential to use an angle grinder that is fitted with a type 41/42 guard when using it for cutting, and indeed that this type of guard should have a dustless facility and be connected to a suitable dust collector if the operation continues for any more than just a few seconds. Yet no one has taken responsibility for telling, advising or training angle grinder users in this particular aspect of operator safety.
The power tool manufacturers in general (although there are exceptions) simply provide a type 27 guard with each new machine (their reasoning being that it is an angle grinder, even though the vast majority of 230mm angle grinders are used for cutting) and then they announce the availability of the alternative cutting guard in the owner’s handbook for that particular machine.
Apart for the difficulty of getting employers or their operators to change a guard on any machine, I am forced to ask the simplest of questions: ‘When was the last time you read an owner’s manual?’

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Nuisance dust

Wandering along the road last week when on the way to a meeting, I came across a builder with a 230mm angle grinder fitted with a bonded abrasive cutting wheel which he was using to rake mortar from the front wall of a large house. I say encountered, but in reality I couldn’t miss him since the nuisance dust cloud he was creating rivalled a Saharan sandstorm. Imaging therefore my surprise when I realised that he wasn’t wearing any eye protection, hearing protection or most importantly of all, any face protection.
When the worker paused in his labours, then coughed, hawked and spat out a huge amount of dust that had accumulated in his throat, and the large dust cloud he had caused had finally drifted away towards the next door property, I cautiously approached the operator and suggested in a reasonable tone that it may better for him to take protective measures since it was his health he was immediately endangering. In addition, I also pointed out to him that he should also think about the health of the next door neighbours and the fact that he was leaving himself open to litigation, in response to which I was told (not very politely) to go away and to stop bothering him.
Whilst there are huge numbers of workers in the UK who are totally and completely ignorant and are also oblivious of any rules and regulations let alone common sense and respect for their own state of health, then the efforts of safety personnel up and down the country would seem to be somewhat ineffectual. Whilst this particular operator was not only breaking the law, he was also risking civil action and yet did not seem to care about his own health let alone that of anyone else. It is very sad and a scandal that there are any number of operators working in the construction and building industries who shun the use of PPE and RPE and who never get caught.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

So what is the point in half face respirators?

Disposable half face respirators do have their place in the workshop, but only where the task to be completed is of a minor nature and where the task is short of duration and does not create any appreciable level of dust.
Where operatives are forced to wear face protection for several hours each day then a disposable respirator is almost certainly a complete waste of money. The employer should first of all assess whether face protection necessary? Assuming that it is, then he or she could do worse than consult the local HSE Inspectorate.
Keeping dust out is obviously the best bet but this is not always possible. It very much depends on the nature of the task and of the equipment or tools to be used. Indeed, even though dust collection may be provided, often the performance of such equipment falls well below the required standard. On the assumption that dust collection at source isn’t practical then another means of operator protection is necessary. This second line of defence is described by HSE as being a last resort, in other words, if you have taken all of the other steps and yet operators are still in an exposed position, if all else fails then supply PPE/RPE.
Having personally tried virtually every type of dust collection system on offer over the last ten years or so, I can state with a fair degree of fairly certainty that few if any match up to the needs of operators. I can hear screams of protest from the various manufacturers of dust collection system as I write this, but in truth because the systems themselves rely on operatives, management and local conditions, every system will operate below par most of the time. Some are difficult to use (those that are often connected to hand held power tools), some rely on the common sense of operators, others do not work well if the material being cut or sanded is changed to something else. It is a lottery, and the odds of overcoming the problem can be quite frightening, and consequently an operator’s well-being can be put at risk through no fault of his or her own.