Complacency over chemical use leaves worker without an eye
“Protective equipment should not be the go to safety solution for using hazardous substances. If there is a smarter and safer way of doing a job, and it is reasonably practicable for it to be implemented then that is the expectation of the Health and Safety at Work Act” said WorkSafe’s Deputy General Manager for Operations and Specialist Services Simon Humphries.
I think too many people just default to PPE, it's good to see WorkSafe taking this approach.
In my working life in safety (30 odd years ahem...) PPE was and is always the last resort but I agree many default to PPE. I can remember the HSE's old 5 steps to risk assessment which is similar to what we now have and its always been the last resort. Affect changes around the task/item etc., before saying load the person up. Hazardous substances though will always entail PPE as part of the controls. I remember using HF acid and we had extraction booths with forced ventilation, and every conceivable engineering design for the booth but we still expected the employee to don a high level of PPE before using the booth so we had a number of gates offering protection to ensure it would be an extremely rare occurrence for the person to get any HF on their skin. Additionally, we had the antidote cream to hand should that rare occurrence ever happened.
My type of workplace is the laboratory, and the rules around entry to the laboratory are that workers are required to wear the specified PPE wherever hazardous substances are being handled. Interestingly, 'being handled' does not automatically equate to being handled by you: the handling can be by someone else, and it can also conceivably be automated equipment as is suggested by WorkSafe in that article. As an example, by wearing safety goggles, I am effectively immune to something flicking across my face and hitting my eyes - it's worth noting that those safety glasses are theoretically capable of withstanding a low calibre bullet impacting them. So, why the PPE? Because my planning is based on the worst case scenarios - the equipment fails for an unknown reason.
I am also a holder of a Radiation User licence, and in the radiation laboratory, workers are required to use the specified gloves, a thicker barrier glove, and a lighter external glove that is discarded frequently. We are handling radioisotopes, and the use of those gloves acts as a shield against the low energy isotopes. For high energy Beta-emitters, perspex shielding is used, while for Gamma-emitters, a lead apron is worn in addition to using the Lead-dosed perspex. Why the PPE? In the case of the gamma radiation, all I can do is decrease the probability that I will be hit with a gamma photon, and every little bit helps me do this.
In a medical situation, some patients receive CT guided injections of steroids into their spines. The physician giving the injection is wearing a lead apron because they are sitting on a stool right next to the patient lying in the CT scanner. Why the PPE? Without that apron, the physician will, over their working year, receive a radiation dose considerably above the annual limit of 20mSv a year as averaged over 5 years.
There are times in which PPE is the first thought because of very valid reasons, and it is the responsibility of those in charge to be analysing the risks associated with the work, and be seeking ways to modify the risk profile of the tasks being undertaken such that the risk to the worker is decreased. While we might prefer to make a sweeping declaration that PPE is the lowest form of control on a hazard, sometimes it is actually the correct choice to make for the task at hand. None of this precludes the use of engineering controls, but the PPE will always be there as it's a back-up.
Incidentally, would anyone care to suggest why it's a bad idea to walk around in jandals on a building site?
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