The Importance of PPE | Hasmate Health and Safety
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The Importance of PPE

The Importance of PPE

Chemical Sprays and PPE

I want to share with you an incident that occurred due to working with a hazardous substance, that ruined the mental wellbeing of a young man.

A few years ago, I called into a local garage for petrol. I was served by a young man (around 19 years old).

Because I hadn’t seen him before, I commented, “Are you new to the job?”

“Yes,” he replied hesitantly, “It’s my first job in 3 years.”

I noticed by his mannerisms that he was shy, with no eye contact and a bit slow in his verbal and physical responses. Being the gregarious (nosy) person I am, I then asked him what he did in his last job.

He replied that he had worked in his uncle’s vineyard in the school holidays and weekends, doing spraying, and general tractor and pruning work, but he had to give it up because he got sick from the spray.

I then asked, “When you sprayed the grapes, did your uncle give you all the safety gear to wear, like a protective suit, safety mask, respirator, gloves, etc.?”

“No,” he replied, “My uncle only gave me a yellow plastic raincoat with a hood, but that did not stop the spray from hitting me in the face when I turned the corners of the rows.”

When I spoke to the garage owner about his new employee and mentioned what I heard, he told me that he had been an A grade student at high school and had planned to go to university to train as a doctor. But now, due to the poisonous effects the spray had on his brain, this was no longer his dream.

Another young person’s future halted, and all because an employer did not bother to protect his employee, casual or not!

Chemicals and the importance of PPE

A workplace accident (involving chemicals) at an industrial engineering company shows how easily things can go wrong.

Read the article here…

“It was like he had dementia” – said the mother of a 23-year-old young man, who at the age of eighteen had worked at a marine engineering company with the ambition of a career as a marine engineer. The incident occurred when he was given the job to get into the hull of a large catamaran and clean the engine bay, using a volatile brake fluid cleaner.

During the work, the young worker recognised that the fumes from the cleaning chemical were affecting him, and he was able to get himself out of the situation immediately.

Little did he know it, but it was too late. He would eventually be diagnosed with severe hypoxic brain injury being the result of restricted oxygen supply to the brain which causes the gradual death and impairment of the brain cells.

In the words of his mother, it was like he had dementia.

From the investigation and subsequent prosecution by WorkSafe NZ, it was identified that:

  1. He had not been trained in the safe use of the chemical;
  2. There were no safe systems of work relating to hazardous substances;
  3. There was no supervision;
  4. A similar incident using the same chemical had occurred a few days previously, and he did not know of this reported event; and
  5. Other contributing factors were also identified (but these are not the purpose of this article).

What can we learn from this terrible incident?

This incident did not need to happen. So let’s identify what we can all learn from it, to improve the safety systems of our own businesses, the safety of your employees, and for the safety of others.

Significant Hazards

This term was included in the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1993, but has lapsed as part of hazard assessment and management.

When applied as part of the risk management process, it should be asked – could any of the three types of harm below result from this hazard? – when undertaking a hazard and risk management assessment.

A significant hazard means a hazard that is an actual or potential cause, or source of:

  1. Serious harm, or notifiable event, as per the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, e.g. harm that you can identify immediately.
  2. Harm (being harm that is more than trivial) the severity of whose effects on any person depend entirely or among other things, on the extent or frequency of the person’s exposure to the hazard, e.g., RSI/OOS, etc.
  3. Harm that does not usually occur, or usually is not easily detectable, until a significant time after exposure to the hazard, e.g., exposure and poisoning from agrichemical or industrial chemicals, noise, long term hearing loss, asbestosis, exposure to silica dust, etc.

Health & Safety statistics – what do they show us?

The latest accident/incident statistics are an indictment of the lack of improvement to health and safety in New Zealand in the past 30 years, and are showing that we have made little difference with health and safety.

According to the statistics, an average of 700-750+ families are losing a loved one each year.

Annually, these are made up of:

  1. 75 – 80 fatalities caused by workplace accidents (direct hits); and
  2. The balance (approximately 675+) from long term illnesses from exposure to workplace harmful substances, etc. –  this should be of critical concern to us all, as these are sobering figures.

The annual figure includes fatalities from long term illnesses – chemical poisoning being one of those causal agents.

So, approximately 22,500 fatalities in the past 30 years.  And this does not include those amputees, those who are permanently bedridden, wheelchair bound, or others in a constant state of mental injury or disarray.

What is the answer?

Here are a few ideas to address this:

  1. The business owners’, officers, executive staff, and board members to bring themselves up to speed with their obligations and responsibilities for health and safety in the business.
  2. Health and safety to become an agenda item for all management meetings.
  3. Review your employment and selection processes, including your application for employment, to get the right people with the right qualities, skills, or qualifications.
  4. Require that the shortlisted 1-2 applicants undergo a health screening test. The business should pay for it, as this will identify if applicants have any health issues that may impact on their work activities.
  5. Review and/or implement a 2-3 phase induction programme to cover off the company’s policies and procedures including the:
    • Company standards, and the quality and health and safety requirements of the business.
  6. Ensure that all new employees are supervised and/or have a go-to person for their first 2-3 weeks of employment, regardless of experience, skills, or qualifications.
  7. Check the company’s health and safety plan/system has been reviewed in the past 12 months, and bring it up to date, as required.
  8. Establish or undertake a comprehensive review of the company’s hazard and risk registers, and identify areas that may have been missed.
  9. Establish a JSA/SSSP for all work activities that have been identified as high risk, and involve the employees in the risk assessment of this document.
  10. Establish the company’s safe work method statements or safe operating procedures, so they include the company’s quality and safety standards for all machinery and all other activities, to achieve consistency of standards and workmanship.
  11. Identify all hazardous substances used in the business, make sure there is an up-to-date MSD sheet (no older than 5 years), and that all employees who use any hazardous substances in their employment are adequately trained in the safe use of the chemical using the MSD sheet and the importance of PPE, prior to them using the hazardous substances.
  12. Train the new employees on all facets of their employment using the SOPs, and maintain records of this training.
  13. Implement and monitor the work performance of every new and existing employee on a scheduled basis, and recommend improvements or changes.
  14. Involve the employee in the health and safety of the business.
  15. Establish an annual employee review process.
  16. Implement an active (no fear) incident reporting system, act on all reports ASAP, and communicate the results to your staff. Learn from these events and treat them as an opportunity for the continuous improvement of your business.
  17. Review and ensure that all equipment and machinery is fit for purpose, maintained with records to prove this, and are safe to always use.

This is not a complete list – let us know anything else you would add to this list!

Please contact us if you wish to discuss this further.