Suppliers of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are constantly unveiling new products and technologies, but it’s important to get the basics right before going high-tech. JACO DE KLERK takes a look at the importance of, and new developments in, PPE.
The importance of personal protective equipment in heavy industry cannot be over-emphasised: it should be worn by everyone who goes on site.
So says Trevor Justus, director of ATA International. As a provider of internationally certified health and safety training courses, ATA is keenly aware of the tragedy and loss that can occur when inadequate protective gear is used, or when equipment is used incorrectly.
Justus acknowledges that basic protective equipment – from hard hats and gloves to goggles and safety boots – is commonplace in safety-critical sectors such as mining. However, other reasonably simple items might be just as important for certain activities in diverse industries: think face masks, ear plugs and full-length reflective clothing.
“The main aim of PPE is to prevent illness and injury,” says Justus, “but it must also be able to limit injury in the event of an incident.”
So what is appropriate? This is where occupational hygiene comes into play. “Occupational hygienists conduct health risk assessments to establish what type of equipment is necessary for a particular environment,” says Justus. “They will identify the potential dangers in an area, then assess the chances of people being exposed to those risks.”
As a discipline, occupational hygiene focuses on the anticipation, recognition, evaluation and control of environmental stressors in the workplace. A stressor is anything that might result in injury, illness, impairment or any other negative effect on the wellbeing of workers and members of the community.
“Stressors could be biological, chemical, physical, ergonomic or psychosocial,” says Justus. “The appropriate protection equipment is determined by identifying, then studying, the relevant stressors. For example, an assessment in the mining sector may show a risk of falling rock or excessive dust from rock explosions – and will state that hard hats, face masks and ear protection are prerequisites.”
Justus points out that personal protective equipment is regulated by the SABS. Dust masks, for example, must be able to filter out certain micro particles to comply with the institution’s standards.
Similarly, if SABS approval is to be secured by an ear-plug manufacturer, the ear plugs must be able to filter out high levels of noise while allowing the wearer to hear lower levels of sound such as warning sirens and emergency commands.
An innovative product that meets this demand is the new Sync Stereo Earmuff (see sidebar on next page) – a practical solution that workers want to use. More lifestyle accessory than safety item in the mind of the user, it delivers excellent safety benefits in noise-sensitive environments.
“Evolving standards, legislation and compliance requirements have had a major awareness boost on employers in the past five years,” says Justus – and high-tech developments such as the Sync indicate how all-inclusive PPE has become in environments where the risk of personal injury is high.
The final ingredient is employee buy-in. And this is paramount.
The South African Occupational Health and Safety Act states that employers are responsible for facilitating and maintaining a work environment that is safe and without risk to its workforce – but only to a reasonable extent. The Act doesn’t force sole responsibility on the company if an accident takes place.
Justus explains that the Act is based on the premise that hazards and risks are best addressed by communication and co-operation between the employer and its employees. “Both are responsible for health and safety in the workplace, and must proactively participate in identifying dangers. They must work together to make the workplace safe and keep it safe.”
The need for employee buy-in makes training important for obvious as well as more subtle reasons. As Justus says, in addition to the practical know-how imparted during any health and safety training course, exposure to the subject gives employees a better understanding of the need for a safety-first mindset.
“They gain a heightened awareness that can be enormously effective in getting them on board in the challenge to make the workplace safer.”
Realising what risks exist promotes a greater sense of responsibility in the individual – and when you’re talking about a potentially hazardous work environment, this is mission-critical.
Play it safe
The Sync Stereo Earmuff from Howard Leight doesn’t just protect users from hazardous noise levels – it gives them hi-fi stereo sound, with DJ-inspired design delivering a sound quality equalling that of professional headphones.
The Sync plugs into any personal music source – MP3 player, iPod or other portable audio device – and combines acoustic-optimising ear-cup design and volume management technology.
Renee Bessette, a certified occupational hearing conservationist and global brand manager for Howard Leight and Honeywell, explains: “Most stereo earmuffs used in industry today provide a moderate level of hearing protection – but they often sacrifice sound quality, which can discourage their use.”
Sneaky but smart volume management technology allows the Sync to manage the levels of sound reaching the user’s ears. It prevents the volume from being turned up too high, which can lower the person’s awareness of their surroundings.
But music lovers can relax – the Sync’s technologically-advanced acoustic bass chamber enhances bass sounds, which are usually lost in industrial earmuffs, eliminating the need to ‘crank’ the volume up.
Launched by Honeywell Safety Products, the Sync Stereo Earmuff is distributed locally by HSE Solutions.