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The Credit Crunch

Published: 10th Oct 2008

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

Not a time to cut corners in safety

Today’s high costs

As the price of oil remains high, more and more companies who have staved off price increases for as long as they can, are now having to capitulate. Recession seems to be ever closer, but companies in the industrial sector considering ways to economise should not compromise Personal Protective Equipment budgets.

In times where businesses are already operating under lean processes, this is not an easy task, but health and safety is an issue which should never be taken lightly. Prevention is always preferable to cure, but it is all too easy to dismiss the wider ramifications of health and safety requirements.

The protective clothing market is flooded with cheap alternatives to quality equipment. However, industrial negligence is a massive liability. Inadequate protection is often called into question in the wake of an accident, shortly before the finger is pointed at the employer. Considering that injury compensation claims and legal fines can run into substantial figures, there is more cause now then ever to invest wisely in health and safety.

In a recent industrial case, a worker suffered serious burns as a result of not wearing adequate hand protection, and cost the company concerned almost £10,000 - a significant sum for the business concerned. Compensation costs can also lead to increases in insurance premiums, alongside loss of productivity due to absenteeism, and cost of recruitment, if employees are unable, or choose not to return to work.

Where manual work is concerned, providing workers with the right gloves for the task, not only provides protection, but can also save companies a considerable amount of money.

“Employers and those responsible for buying in protective clothing need to realise the benefits of good protective gloves and other quality PPE,” commented James Arrowsmith, Business Development Manager at Polyco, “Poor protective clothing can have a dramatic impact on a business, in terms of the safety of its workers, financially and even a company’s reputation as a responsible organisation.”

He continues. “By selecting inadequate hand protection employers leave themselves and their employees open to safety and legal risks; risks which can lead to irrevocable damage to individuals, and leave employers with steep costs in fines and compensation fees. Appropriate PPE has many benefits for any industrial and manufacturing business, and it is important that this message is heard.”

What can be done?

There are a number of initiatives which employers can undertake on their own to check that they are providing workers with the correct protection. The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations (SI1992 / 2966) require employers to provide their employees with appropriate PPE. All protective clothing classified as PPE needs to be CE marked to be compliant with the law. By looking for the CE mark, employers will know whether the products they provide meet certain essential requirements defined by European standards.

Product data is also a useful tool. All protective clothing should come with product information, be it on packaging or as a separate data sheet, detailing what standards it has been tested to, and its performance levels. This, together with their own risk assessment, enables employers to see whether the protective clothing is suitable for the requirements of the job at hand, and any potential risks it poses.

You reap what you sow

Cheap, imported products without the CE mark do not meet legal requirements and furthermore offer no guarantee that they meet necessary standards. Companies also need to be aware that cheaper products will often not last as long, and therefore initial savings made may not provide any financial benefit long term. Purchasers of protective gloves and other protective clothing must check that any products they buy are both compliant with legislation and offer sufficient protection for the task in hand. Adequate protection is the employer’s responsibility and failure to act can result in serious consequences.

Poor glove selection can also impede productivity. In addition to risking overstretching the workforce due to the absence of workers recovering from injury, poorly selected gloves can also restrict productivity if they are impractical for the job at hand. Factors like inadequate fit and dexterity can slow performance, or cause workers to abandon gloves altogether. It is important that gloves provide not only a suitable barrier, but also enable ease of use.

In high-risk situations, where the worst can happen, companies should not be reliant on substandard products to protect them; if they are put to the test there is a possibility that they will fail to perform with both a high human cost, and monetary expense. Hand injuries, burns and accidents can have long term disabling implications for the afflicted user; in extreme cases preventing them from returning to work.

Help is at hand

When selecting protective equipment, businesses should not rely on catalogues alone to pick out the protective equipment they need, but should seek expert advice from a knowledgeable partner who can provide a full analysis of the protective requirements and recommend the right solutions accordingly.

A number of health and safety bodies and PPE providers offer glove or other protective clothing surveys. Current UK legislation states all companies are required to undertake an assessment of the risk to health that may arise from exposure to hazards in the workplace, if the hazard cannot be removed, and contact cannot be avoided, a glove survey can help significantly with product selection. Glove surveys are safety audits that work to raise the standard of hand protection in line with current EC legislation; in turn helping to minimise the number of hand injuries occurring in the workplace, and related costs. They also offer an in-depth analysis of health & safety requirements and provide detailed reports to help guide employers in the right direction.

A glove survey analyses all the different types of tasks existing within a company, what risks they pose to workers and what features suitable hand protection needs to include, such as levels of cut-resistance, and practical factors like grip and dexterity, for ease of use. However, businesses can often over-simplify their glove requirements, seeking a one-stop solution when rarely such a thing is suitable. In conclusion of the audit, a list of appropriate products is often suggested and can be trialled for wear suitability.

Certain PPE providers can also help businesses, which are generally happy with the protection their workers use, but nevertheless want to check or confirm the protective credentials of a particular product. These PPE providers can test individual products through UKAS accredited chemical, microbiological and physical testing laboratories, equipped with a range of tools that enable testing to European Standards.

On request, some protective clothing providers, in conjunction with or separate to a glove survey, also offer bespoke safety awareness campaigns to reinforce a safety-first ethos. And Tool-Box-Talks training to promote proper use, care and maintenance of PPE, to ensure both employers and wearers gain the most from their quality PPE. And with certification provided, companies can keep the information for company records.

Companies need to be aware of the fact that any scenario where inadequate protection is in place is an accident waiting to happen. Albeit the economic climate, the right protection is paramount; enabling workers to do their jobs safely and productively; and ultimately to the benefit of the employer.

Published: 10th Oct 2008 in Health and Safety International

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