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Above the Neck Protection

Published: 01st Jan 2006


To prevent ourselves coming to injury or harm while going about our jobs, we are nowadays accustomed to using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) in order to minimise exposure to hazardous substances and offer protection in case of an accident. However, personal protective equipment is not the only route that offers protection as good work practices and organisational controls can also be used as valid risk reduction techniques.

Although the head comprises of less than five percent of the mass of the average adult, it is the most important and vulnerable area of our bodies and can be the hardest to heal if it suffers any injury. Four of our senses are concentrated there as well as our most delicate and complex internal organ, the brain. The areas we need to adequately protect are our sight, hearing, respiratory systems (as we breathe through our mouth and nose) as well as protecting the skull from impacts by wearing a suitable hard hat.

Everyone knows you need the right tools for the job, or you end up with a poor result. The same principles apply to the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) when protecting workers from exposure to hazards in the workplace. If you use the wrong type of PPE or use items incorrectly, they may not only be useless, but can offer a false sense of protection that could lead to serious problems. Health and Safety Regulations require that any exposure control measures (including PPE) should be suitable and sufficient for the task and that a competent person compiles the risk assessment detailing PPE to be used.

However the most important piece of above the neck protection, and the easiest to overlook is that found 'between the ears'. You can't put a quantitative value on common sense but its lack of application can cause serious consequences. Users must be trained not only in the correct use of their protective equipment, but they also need to understand why it is important and in their best interests to wear it so as to prevent themselves coming to harm. Employers must also be aware of their duty to supervise activities to ensure that all PPE identified as a safety requirement and issues to staff is being used consistently & correctly.

Eye protection

Eye damage is one of the most frequently sustained and potentially serious types of industrial injury, and since DIY is one of Britain's fastest growing leisure activities, you're not safe in the home either! On the up side however, eye damage is probably one of the most easily preventable injuries.

Eye protection guards against the hazards of impact, splashes from chemicals or molten metal, liquid droplets, dust, gases, welding arcs, non-ionising radiation and the light from lasers. Eye protectors include safety spectacles, eye shields, goggles, and face shields.

Since the advent of the PPE Regulations, there has been an upsurge in the number of companies seeking advice to ensure that they comply with the regulations.

Many injuries come from mechanical jobs, such as grinding, which generate small, high-speed particles like dust or splinters. These can get through poor eye protection. Wearing safety spectacles with side shields, goggles with box and cup or face shields reduces the likelihood of this happening.

The selection of eye protection depends primarily on the hazard, but comfort, style and durability should also be considered, also compatibility with other PPE worn. The regulations call for the personal issue of protective eyewear and many forward-looking employers find that, by involving their employees in the selection process, they are more likely to want to wear it.

It's vital to have regular eye examinations as your eyesight will change over time. One examination every two years is a sensible precaution. It is frightening how many people are unknowingly walking (and driving) around with defective eyesight. Do you include a basic eyesight test when you take on new staff?

With an estimated one in four of us needing prescription glasses, it's not surprising that the use of prescription safety glasses has increased over recent years. Prescription eyewear is ideal in many respects, but in some cases, it may be more convenient for the user to have an eye shield over their regular glasses. For example, if an operator is moving between areas all day, they may prefer to keep their regular glasses on all the time, and use over-glasses when in a hazardous area. If you insist on them using unpopular prescription eyewear, you may find some rule-breaking going on.

To be rated as safety glasses, frames and lenses must adhere to BS EN 166 standard (previously BS 2092). Any supplier of safety eyewear should be familiar with the markings, which are summarised in the table below:-

There are several different types of eye protection:

  • Safety spectacles - Look similar to prescription spectacles but may have optional side shields to give lateral protection. Most manufacturers offer a range of prescription safety spectacles, which are individually matched to the wearer
  • Eye shields - Like safety spectacles, but heavier and designed with a frameless one-piece moulded lens. Vision correction is not possible, as the lenses cannot be interchanged. Some eye shields may be worn over prescription spectacles?
  • Safety goggles - Heavier and less convenient to use than spectacles or eye shields. They are made with a flexible plastic frame and one-piece lens and have an elastic headband. They afford total protection from all angles. May be prone to misting. There are various 'ventilated' types for hot work
  • Face shields - Heavier and bulkier than other types of eye protector, but comfortable if fitted with an adjustable head harness. They protect the face but do not fully enclose the eyes and so don't protect against dusts, mist or gases

Proper care and maintenance of safety eyewear is mandatory under the PPE Regulations. Products available include pre-moistened towelettes containing anti-fog solution, and cleaning stations. Clean your safety glasses daily. Follow the manufacturer's instructions and avoid rough handling that can scratch the lenses. Remember that scratches can impair vision and weaken lenses. Store your safety glasses in a clean, dry place where they cannot fall or be stepped on. Keep them in a case when they are not being worn.

Marking ID under BS 2092 ® Manufacturer's marks Hazard description Marking ID under BS EN 166 ® Manufacturer's marks
Impact grade 1 Medium energy (120 m/s) B Frame & lens
Impact grade 2 Low energy (45 m/s) F Frame & lens
Basic Increased robustness (12m/s) S Frame & lens
New standard (applies only to face shields) High energy impact (190 m/s) A Frame & lens
Optical class Astigmatism .06 Spherical/-.06 Prism .12 1 Lens only
New standards Astigmatism .12 Spherical/-.12 Prism .12 2 Lens only
Not a requirement of standard Hard coat- resistance to damage by fine particles K
Not a requirement of standard Anti-mist - resistance to damage by fine particles N
C Chemical (liquids) 3 Frame only
D Dust 4 Frame only
G Gas and fine dust particles 5 Frame only
Not a requirement Short circuit electric ar c 8 Frame only
M Molten metal & hot solids 9 Frame & lens

Replace scratched, pitted, broken, bent or ill-fitting glasses. Damaged glasses interfere with vision and do not provide proper protection. Replace damaged parts only with identical parts form the original manufacturer to ensure the same safety rating. Encouraging employees to keep their safety eyewear in cases will help to extend the life of the product.

Many eye injuries stem from people lifting their eye protection during a job. So keep it on at all times. If you must lift it, stop what you are doing. Before you start, make sure you have first aid equipment and eyewash, you know where it is stored and it is easily to hand in case of an accident.

Do not rub the eye. This will make matters worse, increasing the chance of blindness or the loss of an eye.

Get medical attention as quickly as possible. Getting to a hospital may save your sight. Call an ambulance or get someone to drive you there.

Never wash a cut or punctured eye. Cuts should be bandaged lightly if possible. Abrasions will need hospital treatment with drops, ointments and a sterile pad over the eye for at least 24 hours. Lacerations are far more painful and may require drug therapy, eye ointment and stitching of any torn tissue.

It's vital to involve the person when selecting suitable eyewear for them. Issues you may never have thought of may make the wearing of a particular type totally unsuitable. Get it wrong, and you're likely to end up constantly nagging a disgruntled employee to put their glasses on. Get it right, and although the initial cost will be higher, it should save you in the long run as people tend to look after their own PPE more carefully.

Respiratory protection

If an inhalation risk is present, it's not sufficient to give just any mask to workers. Some filters and disposable masks only offer protection against dusts and fumes, so if you are exposed to solvent vapours they will offer no protection at all. The level of exposure needs to be expertly assessed so that the right grade of filter is used. The cheapest masks available from DIY centres often only protect against nuisance dusts and provide no protection from contaminants in the workplace. Other substances need special filters and certain high-risk applications will need to use specialist fresh air fed equipment to provide protection.

basic mask either covers the mouth and nose only. It compels its wearer to breathe in through a filter which removes harmful dust, hazardous gases and vapours from the air. Airborne toxic materials may be gaseous (for example chlorine), vapours (such as xylene) or particulate (such as wood dust or brick dust). Many gas masks include protection from both types. Single use disposable masks are available for protection against dusts (Standard EN 149) or against both dusts and vapours (EN405). The non disposable equivalent is to Standard EN 140 and allows appropriate filter cartridges to be attached to the mask. Vapour cartridges are usually filled with activated carbon or certain resins that will absorb substances such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), eliminating them from the breathing air.

There are different cartridges for different compounds. A particulate filter works by having holes that are smaller than the particles to be removed. Since many pollutant molecules and particles are larger than oxygen and nitrogen molecules, this works for many applications. Filters have particular protection factors incorporated within the standards that allow the selection of one that will be suitable and sufficient to protect against the contaminants present. However, the smaller the gap through which the air has to pass, the greater the pressure the wearer's lungs must exert to draw the air through, hereby limiting the porosity of these passages. Thus, in situations where large quantities of dust may be present it is possible to use a powered respirator (to Standard EN146/7) to overcome this problem.

In certain circumstances, the working atmosphere may contain such high levels of hazardous materials or be so oxygen depleted that it is not possible to use the local air even when filtered. Such atmospheres are sometimes classified as immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH). In these cases, it is necessary to use specialist self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) or use an airline supplied mask. Users are required to undergo specific user training before being able to safely wear such apparatus.

Hearing protection

A major revision to the noise regulations is due to come into force in 2006, the big change is that the action levels are being lowered, and this means that many workers not previously covered will come under the scope of the regulations for the first time.

Noise exposure can lead to hearing damage, even loss of hearing and tinnitus. Hearing loss due to noise exposure continues to be a significant occupational disease with 170,000 people in the UK suffering from deafness, tinnitus (noises 'in the head' with no external source - ringing, whistling, buzzing, humming), or other ear conditions due to exposure to excessive noise at work.

Age and general fitness are no protection from hearing loss - young people can be damaged as easily as the old. Someone in their mid-twenties can have the hearing that would be expected in a 65 year old. Once ears have been damaged by noise there is no cure.

Industrial deafness is the largest single basis for compensation claims, and as well as costing millions it is for the individuals a socially isolating complaint. The new rules are designed to reduce this human and financial toll.

The current Noise at Work Regulations came into effect in 1990. The revised regulations implement a European Directive, but it has always been planned that the standards for the UK would tighten up as maybe up to 10% of workers exposed at current permitted noise levels for a working lifetime will develop noise induced hearing loss at levels recognised for industrial injury benefit.

The revised regulations tighten the legal requirements in relation to noise by lowering the exposure action values to 80 and 85 dB(A) (from the current 85 and 90). This is a big change as every 3dB reduction represents a halving of the permitted noise exposure.

Earlier this year the HSE conducted a formal consultation exercise on the draft regulations and guidance. It is clear that the major change is to the permitted noise exposure levels. Currently (under the Noise at Work Regulations 1989) the first action level is a daily personal noise exposure of 85 dB(A), the second action level is a daily personal noise exposure of 90 dB(A), and the peak action level is a peak sound pressure of 200 pascals. Under the new regulations in early 2006, the first action level will be 80 dB(A) and a peak value of 112 pascals, the second action level will be 85 dB(A) and 140 pascals, and there will be a limit value of 87 dB(A) and 200 pascals. The limit value will take into account the reduction afforded by hearing protection.

An action level is the measured noise exposure at which an employer is required to take steps to reduce the harmful effects.

First action level - you are required to assess exposure to establish whether it is at or above the first action level. If it is, then you should provide your employees with hearing protection, if they ask for it and their noise exposure is between the first and second action levels, i.e. a LEPd of 80-85 dB(A) or peak of 112 and 140 pascals. (Note LEPd is the way of expressing noise exposures over a working day, the peak level is a measure of the energy of short-lived noise such as impact from a nail gun).

Second action level - you should provide your employees with hearing protection and make every effort to ensure that they use it properly when their noise exposure exceeds the second action level, i.e. a LEPd of 85 dB(A) or peak of 140 pascals.

Limit value - at no time may exposures exceed LEPd 87dB(A) or 200 pascals, taking into account the effect of hearing protection such as ear muffs or plugs.

It is necessary to develop an understanding of worker exposures:

  • Identify those employees at risk
  • Determine daily personal noise exposure
  • Keep record of noise assessment
  • Regularly review employees' exposure to noise

It is essential to effectively control significant noise exposures:

  • Provide hearing protection
  • Review noise-generating processes... can noise be reduced?
  • Maintain equipment: older = more noise
  • Restrict worker exposure times, exclude workers from noisy areas when practicable

Earplugs, earmuffs and canal caps can protect your ears from loud noise by reducing the level of sound reaching your ears. If you are exposed to noise that cannot be stopped, reduced or avoided, you should use earplugs or earmuffs.

Attenuation is the term used to describe the degree by which ear protectors, such as earplugs and earmuffs, reduce sound. Ear protectors must provide enough attenuation if they are to protect your hearing. Attenuation levels are measured in decibels (dB). The level of attenuation that protectors provide for different frequencies is shown on their packaging.

Most ear protectors give greater protection at higher frequencies (4 to 8 kilohertz) than at lower ones, and it is these higher frequency sounds that are potentially more damaging. However, it is a good idea to remember that in real situations the attenuation is probably less than that measured by the manufacturers, as they will have tested brand new protectors that fit well and done the tests in ideal circumstances.

Attenuation can also be expressed as a single simplified noise-level reduction (SNR) figure. Most industry-standard earplugs carry an SNR of between 25 and 32 dB.

Earplugs are probably best for long term use, but if noise levels are high you will need to wear high-attenuation earmuffs. Earplugs may be more comfortable in warm places.

Earmuffs and canal caps are easier to put on and take off, so are more convenient if you are exposed to noise now and again. For very high noise levels earmuffs and earplugs can be worn together. This usually provides an extra 10 to 15 dB protection than if either is used alone.

To make sure earplugs give you enough protection against noise, choose ones with an SNR figure of between 20 and 32 dB. Make sure that the earplugs are designed for hearing protection. Many earplugs sold by pharmacies and sports shops are designed for swimming or to reduce minor background noise, and do not protect effectively against damaging levels of noise.

Disposable earplugs should be soft and fit comfortably in your ear. They are usually made of foam, mineral wadding or soft silicone. Most disposable earplugs need to be rolled between your fingers, inserted into the ear and held in place until they expand to fill and seal the ear canal.

Reusable earplugs are made from foam, soft plastic or rubber. They can be washed and used again. Pre-moulded, reusable earplugs are very hardwearing and do not need to be rolled to fit in your ear.

If you work in the catering industry, you can get earplugs which can be detected using a metal detector if they fall into food.

Earplugs can be custom-made to give a better fit in your ear canal. Because they use a mould of your ear canal, they tend to be expensive. However, with the better fit they should attenuate noise more effectively and be more comfortable. They may last for several years and so may be cheaper than disposable earplugs for regular, long-term use.

You can get earplugs that protect from sudden explosive noises such as gunshots. These allow normal hearing at non-harmful levels, but attenuate all high-intensity sounds to a safe level. Some are electronic, while others contain special types of materials or special filters.

Earmuffs, or ear defenders, look like large headphones. Hard cups fit over your ear and are sealed to your head with soft cushions on their rims. Standard models provide a similar degree of protection to standard earplugs but you can get earmuffs that give higher levels of attenuation. Some earmuffs are designed to provide similar attenuation at all frequencies (like musician's earplugs), allowing you to hear speech and alarms more clearly.

You can also get earmuffs with folding headbands, which can be carried around or stored more easily, and earmuffs with neckbands, which can be worn with face shields or helmets. It is also possible to get earmuffs which attach to a helmet, rather than a headband.

Some earmuffs are only activated when loud noise is present. These earmuffs are usually electronic and act in a similar way to shooters' earplugs. Earmuffs are also available with built-in radio or audio systems for communication.

Canal caps are attached to a head or chin band, which can be carried round your neck and clamped onto your ears when you need them. Canal caps are useful for noise that comes and goes. ?

Author Details:

Hamish Robertson BSc(Hons) is the CMS Team Leader of Sypol,the UK's leading health, safety and environment consultancy.

For further information on above the neck protection, please call +44 (0)1296 415715 or email Above the Neck Protection

Published: 01st Jan 2006 in Health and Safety International

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