Editorial

Is it time to upgrade your fall protection PPE?

When it comes to fall protection PPE (personal protective equipment), is compliance with legal standards enough? Alfonso Fernandez of MSA Safety explains why it pays to go the extra mile when protecting your employees.

PPE standards make a vital contribution to safety at work, by legally enforcing a reasonable level of quality and capability for all products. However, they do have limitations. For example, can they cover every possible workplace scenario, keep up with rapid changes taking place in industry, and adapt quickly enough to take recent PPE innovations into account?

Certification and standards processes in fall protection PPE

To understand these issues, we should first consider the process for certification. All fall protection PPE needs to be legally certified. New products are independently tested and quality-checked by an accredited third party known as a ‘notified body’. The standards against which PPE is assessed are decided, in the case of fall protection, by a committee of specialists in this area.

Every five years, the committee decides whether to continue with the same certification standards for another five years or to update them. In practice, a standard typically lasts for ten years. Some standards may stay in place for 15 or 20 years. In that time, there is scope for many things to change in the workplace and the PPE market.

When updated standards are introduced, employers are allowed to continue using older PPE which was bought when previous standards applied, provided they follow the manufacturer’s instructions. They will still be complying with legislation, but they should think carefully about whether a newer product will be safer for their teams.

While legal standards may change slowly or not at all, constant developments and breakthroughs are being made by fall protection PPE manufacturers in terms of new technologies, materials and designs. In addition to improving safety, these advances bring practical and productivity advantages. To benefit from these, and to maintain safety as their highest priority, buyers should not always wait for the law to change before upgrading their PPE. At all times, they should seek to be more than just compliant.

Making the decision easier when choosing the right fall protection PPE

For many businesses and PPE buyers, there is no lack of willingness to complyand more, with fall protection legislation. Their problem is with the complexity of the rules, the quantity of documentation, and the difficulty in fully understanding what it all means for real-life applications. Any change in standards can add to the confusion. Meanwhile, they may feel bewildered by the information and choices offered by competing PPE suppliers.

As a result, businesses might find it difficult to know whether they are compliant, whether new PPE would be beneficial, and what PPE products would best meet their needs. Insufficient knowledge, biased advice, or misinformation from others with an incomplete understanding of the issues, can lead to indecision or wrong decisions.

Thankfully, there are good sources of information on evolving legislation and innovations in fall protection PPE, if you know where to look. Trade associations, training agencies and health and safety organisations, for instance, can help to keep you up to date. Look out, in addition, for webinars and seminars on fall protection. It’s also well worth finding PPE suppliers who you feel you can trustfor impartial guidance on whether and how to upgrade. Amongst other support, MSA provides easy-to-understand fact sheets and publications on the key issues to aid awareness.

Capacity choices

One good example of an area with potential for misunderstanding is load capacity limits. The current EU standard for a body harness, which is an essential piece of fall protection PPE, is 100 kg. The user himself or herself may weigh under 100 kg, but we also need to consider the additional weight of heavy tools and other PPE. For this reason, MSA certifies its harnesses to 140 kg. 

If the harnesses used by a business are several years old, they are likely to be certified to 100 kg. Their owner may be unaware that harnesses with the added safety factor of a 140 kg limit are now available and may therefore see no reason to upgrade. 

When an old harness reaches the end of its service life, the owner will compare potential replacement products. Presented with two harnesses, both of which comply with the EU standard, he or she might logically choose the lower-priced product without looking for differencesin load capacity.

MSA’s other fall protection PPE products are similarly certified to 140 kg rather than the EU standard of 100 kg. They include fall arrest systems, such as self-retracting lifelines (SRLs). The same load capacity limit is applied to MSA temporary horizontal lifelines, tripodsandother anchorages. Clearly, all parts of a fall protection system need to have the same load capacity if weak links are to be avoided.

MSA provides clear and simple information with each product and system to help users understand how it should be used and in what circumstances. Crucially, this includes warnings on situations in which the load weight or other factors will make its use unsafe.

Time is money

A key gain to be made from upgrading fall protection PPE is savings in time. Every minute spent on activities other than the job in hand amounts to lost productivity. Donning, set-up, inspection and maintenance of PPE all take time. Any design improvement which reduces that lost time can be seen as aongoing operational cost saver.Viewed from a different angle, any design improvement which makes safety procedures quicker and easier to perform helps ensure theyare alwayscarried out properly.

Correct use of fall protection system is complicated by the interaction of its component parts. It may consist of, for instance, a harness, an SRL and a temporary horizontal lifeline. Each has a different set of features and functions, as well as its own certification. Each also has user manual. Combining these elements optimally for each specific set of application circumstances can involve a lot of reading. 

To simplify this process, MSA is now producing user-friendly system guidance, including charts with pre-calculated values, drawing together information from the separate manuals.This time-saving aid is available, for example, with MSA’s latest temporary horizontal lifeline.

The same product also illustrates how good design can save time on the physical setting up of a system. It can be deployed by a single worker, aided by its inbuilt, toolless locking and tensioning mechanisms. For absolute certainty, coloured indicators confirm when the device has been correctly locked and tensioned. The whole process is 75% faster than that of traditional cable systems.

A further bonus of clear guidance and simple procedures is that new users can learn to use a system very quickly. This saves on training time and budgets.

In addition, good design can simplify and speed up daily, pre-shift, annual and other periodic equipment checks and inspections. Combined with robust construction, it can also reduce servicing needs and downtimeMSA has developed quick maintenance procedures which allow some products to be routinely serviced in the field, rather than sent to a workshop.

Feelgood factors

The way PPE looks and feels is another area in which constant improvements are being made. The importance of these aspects must never be underestimated. Does the appearance of the harness and other PPE items worn by the worker make him or her feel awkward and self-conscious? Or has it been designed to make the wearer look and feel professional? Is it comfortable to wear, or is the user limited and distracted by it?

If the user doesn’t like wearing the item, there’s a risk that he or she will avoid using it – at least occasionally – and choose to work without protection. If its use causes discomfort or restriction of movement, the worker’s ability to carry out tasks effectively and safely may be compromised.

An important and worrying issue in this respect is that traditional PPE designs often fail to cater for the diversity of users. Workers’ sizes and body shapes vary greatly. There are also fundamental differences between men and women in terms of PPE design needs. 

Arecent PPE survey1by the trade union Prospect highlighted this problem. It found, for instance, that 44.7% of female respondents but just 15.3% of male respondents reported poor-fitting overalls.This is just one simple example of a much wider difficulty which designers of fall protection and other PPE are working to address.

When comparing PPE products, you should think about the whole user experience felt by your employees – both shortterm and longterm. Does the PPE give a positive feeling, visually, ergonomically and comfort-wise? Does it help the wearer to do his or her job well? Do its design and operating features save time for the worker

Is compliance enough?

Any consideration of fall protection measures should include a recognition that falling from heights is industry’s biggest cause of fatal accidents2 for workers. 

Your fall protection PPE may be compliant, but does it have sufficient load capacity? Does it in any way hinder your workers and their productivity? Are they happy to wear it or are they sometimes tempted to skip its use? Could it be more robust? Is hanging on to your existing PPE, when improved products may now be available, a false economy?

MSA’s designers and engineers continue to push the boundaries of PPE durability and performance. The company regularly introduces new time-saving features, along with improvements in ergonomics, comfort and style. The result is a product range that does much more than comply with the latest legal standards – aimed at employers for whom safety is truly a priority.

To find out more, click here.

Leading UK PPE manufacturer Globus Group launches new reusable respiratory range for protection against workplace hazards

The new Alpha Sentinel range protects against some of the most dangerous respiratory hazards found in the workplace

 

The UK’s largest PPE manufacturer, Globus Group, has launched a new range of face masks to protect workers against extremely hazardous substances found in the workplace. The new design provides improved comfort and fit to help encourage good PPE compliance.  

Prolonged exposure to hazardous substances over an extended period is known to be extremely harmful, with workers in the manufacturing industry at particularly high risk. It is estimated that each year an average of 33,000 workers suffer from illness caused or made worse by their current or most recent job in manufacturing[i].

The Alpha Sentinel range has been designed for superior fit and comfort for workers, especially those wearing the masks for long periods of time. Lead Product Designer Josh Moffat said, “When it came to designing the Alpha Sentinel range we really tried to prioritise the end-user. We know that workers are often wearing these masks for long periods of time, and so focusing on comfort and fit means that they are more likely to be worn correctly and workers can be confident that they are getting the right protection.

He continued, “Looking beyond fit and comfort, we know that another big reason for PPE non-compliance is masks getting too hot, so we have designed our unique large exhalation valve to minimise heat and moisture build-up. We really believe that the design innovations we have been able to make with the Alpha Sentinel masks are going to make a huge difference to the workers using these products every day.” 

The Alpha Sentinel range comes with a range of changeable filters to protect against solid particulates, liquid particulates, gases, and vapours, and are suitable for use in a wide variety of industry settings. 

The Alpha Sentinel full and half face masks are the first Globus product range to be designed and manufactured entirely in the UK. Globus has committed to manufacturing as many of its products as possible in the UK.

www.globusgroup.com

 

No job is worth dying for – masks and how every face should fit

“In 2019, 1,082 workers per 100,000 were diagnosed with a work-related, respiratory condition many of which could have been prevented by a properly fitted mask,” says Mark Smith, technical director of Simon Safety who is also an accredited face fit tester. “Ten years earlier (1999), that number was 3,418 so we’ve come a long way but 1,082 per thousand is still too many. The majority of those workers work in hazardous engineering environments.

 

“Whichever way you look at it, that number is unacceptable. It’s criminal that lives are still being lost and compromised by people’s work. It’s criminal that our health service is having to treat patients who have been made sick by their work. And it’s criminal that some employers are still not taking their responsibilities seriously enough and may end up in prison for that negligence,” says Mark Smith.

 

HSE now on the face mask case

 

During Covid, the Health & Safety Executive visited circa 1,700 engineering businesses and gained a deep insight into the state of UK engineering sector’s health and safety.

Given how much attention face masks were given thanks to the Covid pandemic, you would think that people who use masks professionally would know how to wear them but that’s not the case from what the HSE saw in the engineering frontline.

More often than not, the HSE inspectors saw people wearing masks which weren’t the right size, weren’t the right fit, leaked all around, didn’t take into consideration both facial hair and how long they were being worn.

Engineers - and those responsible for their safety – thought it was OK to wear a mask for an entire job, no matter how long that job took ie several hours. A mask’s effectiveness decays fast once it becomes water-logged with condensation after prolonged wear. Masks need to be regularly refreshed to work efficiently.

 

Why so many masks are wrong

 

“There’s a hierarchy of control and respiratory control is at the bottom of that list, which means that your mask and other PPE is your last line of defence,” says Mark Smith of Simon Safety, which is a registered member of the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) and the Registered Safety Suppliers Scheme (RSSS).

“As soon as a toxin is inhaled, it’s in your system because that’s how breathing works.

“And if a mask doesn’t fit someone’s face - and we’re all different – it’s never going to protect you.”

Getting masks fit for purpose

In a Hazardous Engineering Solutions exclusive, Simon Safety shares a simple guide to help you stay safe – both employee and employer – if you follow four steps:

  • Get the right mask.
  • Fit the mask and train.
  • Maintain the mask.
  • Regularly review.

Step 1: Get the right mask

 

The right mask is the mask you’ve identified which meets your needs through a risk assessment.

Type of mask:

  • Disposable half masks.
  • Reusable half mask.
  • Full face masks.
  • Powered air purifying respirators (PAPR).
  • Breathing apparatus.

What’s right for the worker and their:

  • Type of task.
  • Face shape.
  • Physical build.
  • Facial features eg scars/warts.
  • Facial hair (only certain equipment will work with beards).

Does the mask need to work with:

  • Prescription spectacles (it’s the employer’s responsibility to ensure the operator’s spectacles fit inside the mask).
  • Eye protection.
  • Ear defenders.
  • Helmet/other head protection.

When several vulnerabilities need PPE – e.g. eyes, ears, head and respiratory – combined protection is best because it’s easier and faster to use which aids productivity. Where a combination of different items of PPE is used, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the combination is effective.

What’s right for the work environment:

  • Duration of task e.g. how long will the task take? If the task involves wearing a close-fitting mask, the worker should take a break at least every hour. Different PPE is needed for day or night operation and inside or outside.
  • Work rate - does the task involve movement/perspiration? That may mean the mask could loosen over time.
  • Nature of the toxins – eg they may be flammable, explosive, aerosol, vapour, dust etc.

Your compliance obligations:

  1. Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
  2. Fit testing is referred to in HSG53 – the HSE’s guide for employers to know (pages 19/20) and table 20 lists what type of mask employees need to wear.
  3. Fit testing brochure INDG479 – describes the methods you should use unless you have a process that’s as good or better. If you’re deviating from this guidance, you’ll need to prove good or better practice, which can be tricky so it’s usually best to stick to INDG479.

Step 2:  Fit the mask and train

A competent person must conduct the fit test.

Find out exactly how the HSE defines ‘competent’ on their website. It’s easier to prove that someone’s incompetent than to prove they are competent.

The HSE and the BSIF (British Safety Industry Federation) define ‘competence’ as an individual fit tester that has been accredited to the Fit2Fit scheme. Accredited testers have proven an extensive knowledge of respiratory protective equipment in conjunction with demonstrating a high level of competence in one or more of the accepted fit testing methods.

 

Quantitative test methods – eg in a lab test chamber or using a portable device, how effective is the mask at filtering contaminants? Does the performance comfortably exceed the minimum expected pass rate?

Qualitative test – eg wearing the mask under a testing hood, can you discern bitter vs sweet smell?

Does the mask fit?

Ask yourself: “Would I be happy for my nearest and dearest to work regularly in a hazardous environment with a mask that fits like this?”

 

Step 3: Maintain the mask

  • Every time you use it, check it over.
  • Before every use, perform a ‘fit check’ as shown during your formal fit test.
  • Closely inspect and keep a written record of the check at least once every month.

Step 4: Regularly review the mask and its fit

  • A competent person must conduct tests.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Appropriate frequency: when a person’s face changes eg due to significant weight gain/loss or significant dental work.
  • Recorded appropriately for the candidate’s training / HR records.
  • Remind everyone of best practice of properly fitting masks on notice boards so malpractice can be called out.
  • Review every one to two years to ensure all protection is suitable for the people and the environment.

Conclusion

In 2024, the Health & Safety at Work Act will be 50 years old.

The appeal from Mark Smith from Simon Safety: “We must all continue to learn from our mistakes if we’re to cut work-related respiratory illness and death in the hazardous engineering industry.

Independent and authoritative research suggests if your average DIYer breathes in a small amount of spray-paint, two weekends a year, it might have no detrimental impact. But if you’re doing that every working day, it has a cumulative effect. Slow and incremental daily doses often lead to debilitating chronic, long-term health conditions or can be killers and contribute to premature death,” says Mark Smith of Simon Safety.

“Today’s filtering technology means respiratory masks efficiently trap and protect your lungs from the smallest particles providing they fit correctly.

“The mistakes made in the past – such as the tragedy of asbestos – were due to ignorance. But we now know better. The internet puts all the appropriate information at our fingertips. It’s criminal not to act on it,” says Mark

“If you’re concerned about face masks or other piece of PPE call 01646 600750 or visit Simon Safety’s website. Take advantage of our expertise and let’s make 2024 a reason for celebration of how far we’ve come rather than regret.”

The importance of ARC Flash clothing

arc oct 19 1ARC flash clothing is being increasingly needed due to the rise in ARC flash hazards becoming more of a risk in many workplaces. Due to the high demand of electricity and power that we continue to use in our daily lives, it is important that electrical workers are full equipped to deal with an ARC flash hazard event should it occur in the workplace.

Don’t play with fire – Arc Flash safety markings explained

When it comes to industrial safety, all of us understand the importance of wearing a hard hat, protective gloves or steel toe-capped boots. In fact, most employers wouldn’t dream of letting their teams on-site without adequate protection, and workers themselves are more than clued up when it comes to the latest safety requirements. However, the same can’t be said when it comes to the potentially fatal risk posed by Arc Flash – a relatively misunderstood, but extremely common type of electrical explosion facing sectors from utilities to industrial electrical, civil engineering and rail. Mark Lant, technical sales manager at ProGARM, explains just what an Arc Flash is, and what to look for to ensure your workforce is protected from the potentially fatal danger.