Safe from head to toe

Maurice Morton knows how dangerous a construction site can be. Here he highlights the perils and how the right clothing can reduce the risk of injury to the work force

Everyone agrees that working on a construction site can be dangerous. Over the last few years this issue has made headline news with startling revelations about the lax attitude towards health and safety on site and low morale within the workforce.

According to a survey by UCATT (Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians) released 18 months ago, a staggering 50 per cent of its members had reservations about safety on building sites and more than one in five workers were worried that their bosses may not take health and safety issues seriously.

In April 2015 the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) Construction Industry Statistics revealed that the construction industry is responsible for 31 per cent of fatalities at work and ten per cent of major workplace injuries despite the fact that the industry employs a mere five per cent of employees nationally.

The message is loud and clear – the construction industry is the most dangerous sector in Britain. Incredibly 69,000 selfreported cases of work-related illnesses happened due to slips, trips, lifting and handling, falling and being struck by a falling object. This of course is also bad news for the construction companies who consequently had to sustain 1.7 million working days lost in 2014/15.

Combine these depressing figures with the fact that it is a legal requirement for an employer to supply workers with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as hats, visors and gloves it is remarkable that the industry does not have one hundred per cent compliance.

PPE is defined in the regulations as “all equipment (including clothing affording protection against the weather) which is intended to be worn or held by a person at work and which protects them against one or more risks to his health or safety”.

The fact is, that this is a serious issue and even before you get to the PPE, the law requires that you assess the risks properly. The Construction Design and Management Regulations came into force in April 2015. They are the main set of regulations for managing the health, safety and welfare of construction projects and it is vital to comply with the law to have the highest chance of avoiding injury and of course the consequences, legally and otherwise, should the worst happen.

On the bright side, PPE compliant work wear is easy to acquire and there is an entire safety-wear industry where specialists are always improving technology to help minimise injury. In a dynamic environment where machines and vehicles are working at once the incidence of flying or falling objects is commonplace. A helmet is the most common type of PPE to protect against falling objects and bangs to the head. One with chinstraps is preferable when working in windy conditions or where repeated bending or looking upwards is required.

Eye injuries are the most likely to occur in the workplace. Most occur when pipes need cutting, grinding, sawing or joining. In those instances, there is a risk of copper or plastic shards flying into the air and potentially into the eye.

Protective eyewear has seen a great deal of evolution from the days of basic traditional ‘safety specs’. Their resistance to impact, adjustment in temples, nose bridges and even themeans of attachment itself all continually evolve, improving the fit and comfort. This is also true for the all-important lens technology, including prescription options. There are several styles but perhaps the most popular is sealed eyewear with interchangeable tinted lenses. All eyewear should come with CE marking approval.

It is also important to guard against inhaling harmful dust. Welding stainless steel, cement mixing, sawing or cutting materials such as stone or wood often results in harmful dust particles, especially on a windy day, that can cause damage when inhaled. In this case a simple respirator or face mask, tested under the standard EN149:2001 (worn over the nose and mouth) could deflect the risk of poisoning because it is designed to reduce the wearer’s exposure to airborne particles. Be sure to assess the risk and chose one that suits the environment. Some respirators are designed to protect against higher levels of toxicity than others.

Exposure to high levels of noise can cause hearing loss and there’sa simple guideline as to whether or not ears need protecting and it’s this: If you need to raise your voice to be heard at arm’s length away, then protection should be worn.

A simple power drill can each reach 100 decibels and a pneumatic drill can reach an earblowing 130 decibels – levels that can cause irreversible damage in a matter of minutes. Ear defenders must be worn. There are several types that range from the humble earplugs to defenders with a high single number rating (a high SNR of 25 or more is preferable on a construction site) to those that combine a helmet and face visor.

Hand and finger incidents can account for anywhere from 50 to 70 per cent of work related injuries. Obvious injuries like bruising, cuts and crushing are common, but there are other less obvious injuries caused, for example, by the continual use of power tools like drills or jackhammers, which in extreme cases can cause hand arm vibration syndrome. This is an irreversible but avoidable condition with nerves, blood vessels, and joints in the hand and wrist all possibly affected, often resulting in a permanent numbing or tingling sensation along with a loss of grip, strength and dexterity.

To this end, gloves are improving dramatically, from very simplistic polka dot work gloves or the traditional ‘rigger’ gloves, to highly engineered ergonomically 3D designed items with multi measurement points.

Protective shoes with steel toe caps (if the shoes are padded and fitted correctly you should notbe able to feel the toecaps at all) and a steel midsole can prevent crushing injuries and punctures from errant nails. Where there may be chemical spillage and electricity there are shoes that have antistatic and energy absorbent heels, which are also slip resistant.

In summary, it’s easy to get properly kitted out, but first assess the risk and diligently employ the necessary PPE required to keep the workforce safe and on the job.

Maurice Morton is sales and marketing director of workwear provider Dickies. Dickies has over 90 years’ experience in workwear manufacturing. From oil fields around the world to major construction sites Dickies workwear has been tested to the limit, gaining a reputation for quality and performance. Utilising the best of both modern and traditional construction techniques the Dickies range is made to last, practical and affords exceptional comfort.