Why safety can be a close shave

Richard Catt, ceo, CFA.

Fortunately, flooring is generally one of the safer construction trades, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take safety seriously says Richard.

MY July article for CFJ challenged readers to consider the health in ‘health and safety’. Putting focus on that element in a way that we don’t perhaps always do. I essentially asked readers to consider if they could do more, in a business sense, to be promote ‘healthy’ employees as well as ‘safe’ employees.

A preventative approach is promoted by B&CE, a CFA member benefit provider. It offers a scheme to help employers and employees monitor health, avoiding long-term health issues potentially caused in the working environment.
This month I return to the phrase ‘health and safety’ with the more usual and traditional ‘safety’ focus. I make no apologies for trying to make people think differently in July, but equally, working safely is something the CFA is always very keen promote. Brought in to focus recently when HSE issued a press release about the very sad death of a floorlayer in London.

The following information has been provided to the CFA by our health and safety member benefit helpline provider and is designed to remind those involved in running flooring businesses and contracts, of some of the main areas of health and safety that need to be considered on every contract. It’s not exhaustive and of course all sites and installation specifications need to be considered individually:

‘During our working lives we are exposed to numerous substances that can harm us. These substances take various forms, they can be liquids, solids, dust and vapours. They can be natural occurring such as bacteria or they can be manufactured such as chemicals. It is important to remember that not all health hazards carry a warning label, some substances can be produced by process such as wood dust from cutting, drilling and sanding.

‘COSHH, short for Control of Substances Hazardous to Health, is a set of regulations that require employers to control substances that are hazardous to a person’s health. Essentially, these regulations place responsibility on employers to reduce the exposure of dangerous substances to their employees.

‘In order to comply with the law, an employer must carry out a risk assessment and communicate this to their employees. If they employ over five people, they must record significant findings.

How do you conduct a COSHH Risk Assessment?

In order to assess the risk from hazardous substances we must follow a relatively simple process;

1. Identify the hazards
2. Decide Who might be harmed
3. Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions

FACT: The HSE has published figures which state that around 8000 people each year in the UK alone lose their life due to cancer caused by inhaling hazardous dust particles.

What control measures should we use?

The measures you adopt could include;

1. Changing the process
    Use a brush application instead of spraying to reduce vapour in the air, use pellets instead of powders as they are less dusty.
2. Containment
    a. Enclose the process or activity to minimise the release of harmful substances, eg using tent enclosures.
    b. Extract emissions of the substance near the source, eg use of extraction equipment
3. Systems of work
    a. Restrict access to those people who need to be there.
    b. Plan storage of materials to ensure appropriate containers are used. Check containers are correctly labelled and that incompatible materials are separated, eg acids and caustics.
    c. Plan storage and correct disposal of waste.
4. Cleaning
    a. Have the right equipment and procedures to clear up spillages quickly and safely.
    b. Clean regularly using dust free methods eg vacuum don’t sweep.
    c. Plan the workplace so it can be effectively cleaned.
5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
    Once you have considered every other option, you must identify appropriate PPE in order to reduce the risk from any remaining hazards.

Remember, whatever controls you identify you must ensure that you communicate to your employees and you must write down the risk assessment if you have more than five employees.

FACT: You’re almost five times more likely to die from a respiratory illness due to dust inhalation than in a car crash.

Extraction equipment
One of the key aspects of controlling exposure to hazardous substances is not overly relying on PPE. Employers must ensure that they have considered all other options before deciding on the use of respiratory protection equipment or gloves for example.

For most flooring applications and when using water-based adhesives, a ‘well-ventilated’ environment is adequate, but the use of Respiratory Protective Equipment may be necessary for some adhesives and installations. The bonus of having extraction systems is that you won’t need a broom on site! Rather than using a broom to sweep up, employers should vacuum any excess dust when cleaning the work area, this is much safer and quicker.

Why is PPE important?
Even where engineering controls and safe systems of work have been applied, some hazards might remain. These include injuries to:

1. the lungs, eg from breathing in contaminated air
2. the head and feet, eg from falling materials
3. the eyes, eg from flying particles or splashes of corrosive liquids
4. the skin, eg from contact with corrosive materials
5. the body, eg from extremes of heat or cold
In these cases PPE is needed to reduce the risk.

What do I have to do?
1. Only use PPE as a last resort
2. If PPE is still needed after implementing other controls (and there will be circumstances when it is, eg head protection on most construction sites), you must provide this for your employees free of charge
3. You must choose the equipment carefully and ensure employees are trained to use it properly and know how to detect and report any faults.

Okay, what about PPE, what are my options?
The PPE you select will depend on multiple factors such as the hazard or substance, the environment and the user.
When selecting PPE employers must;
1. Choose products which are CE marked in accordance with the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002 – suppliers can advise you
2. Choose equipment that suits the user – consider the size, fit and weight of the PPE. If the users help choose it, they will be more likely to use it.

3. If more than one item of PPE is worn at the same time, make sure they can be used together, eg wearing safety glasses may disturb the seal of a respirator, causing air leaks
4. Instruct and train people how to use it, eg train people to remove gloves without contaminating their skin. Tell them why it is needed, when to use it and what its limitations are.

Think about what you need to protect the person from, if your risk assessment identifies specific hazards this will indicate what PPE is required.

1. Hardhats to protect the head from falling materials or bumps.
2. Gloves to protect against sharp or abrasive materials.
3. Steel toe cap boots to protect against dropped materials.
4. Inner sole protection boots to protect against standing on nails.
5. Respiratory Protective Equipment to protect against airborne dusts, fumes and vapours.
6. Goggles to protect eyes from dust or flying debris.
7. Overalls to protect the skin.
If you are unsure contact your Health and Safety advisor or ask your PPE supplier.

I’ve heard that Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) users need to be clean shaven, is this true?

Yes! When a person needs to use tight fit RPE as part of their job, they MUST be clean shaven. If not, they could reduce the effectiveness of the RPE and risk exposure to dangerous substances. Also it’s essential these persons have had face-fit training by a competent person. During face-fit training it will be confirmed that the RPE is compatible with the user and fits them correctly. They will also be given instruction on how to use and care for their RPE.

So beards are banned in the workplace?
Not exactly - there is optional RPE for persons with facial hair, this equipment doesn’t rely on the seal.

Much of the above is based on the overall legislation, but you don’t have to look too hard to see the practical applications for flooring. But where it is less obvious, speaking to an expert before submitting a tender, writing a risk assessment, briefing and training employees or starting a job, could save time, money and more importantly lives. It can also avoid lengthy discussions with main contractors. It’s a fact that working on stairs or an unfinished mezzanine can be considered working at height. Even if you’re fitting a floor!

Fortunately, flooring is generally one of the safer construction trades, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take safety seriously. Some of the advice the legislation has led us to adopt includes things such as vacuuming rather than sweeping and there’s an ever-increasing drive towards low VOC products that can’t do anything but help us work more safely.

You can’t get away from the fact we generally use knives to fit floors and we must move materials and waste that at minimum means we should use cut resistant gloves for those processes. I understand that innovation makes some gloves more suitable for fitting too.

Perhaps the most striking thing for me in pulling this article together is the directive by HSE to consider alternatives before reverting to PPE and like moving from sweeping to vacuuming is something where I wonder if there is more opportunity to work smarter and safer?

CFA provides our members with a health and safety helpline to assist and offer advice whenever it’s needed. They can also provide additional information and structured support if required. Like many CFA benefits, it makes sorting out your health and safety requirements less demanding and we do all the due diligence to find members a good partner to deliver the advice needed. All within one simple membership package.
0115 9411126