What was that you said?

This article was written for Risk and Safety Plus by Joan McKechnie BSc Hons Audiology & Speech Pathology. Joan works for Hearing Direct, which offers a range of hearing equipment for the deaf and hard of hearing. 

In the Western world, the two most common types of hearing loss are age-related and noise induced.  Age-related hearing loss is a gradual deterioration in hearing ability and there’s nothing that you can do to prevent it happening as you get older.  However, noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the result of damage – which the ear can be protected against.

When does NIHL occur?

If you are in a noisy environment for a prolonged period of time tiny hair cells in your ear are damaged – and the outcome is a reduction in your ability to hear clearly.

Damage to your hearing is irreversible which means that any ‘cure’ is merely a way to manage the condition.

The degree of hearing loss caused by noise will depend on factors such as:

  • How long the exposure continues
  • How loud the noise is

Everyone is different and the level of hearing loss will vary from one person to the next.

How to reduce NIHL

You don’t want to damage your hearing (or that of the people who work in your organisation) so it’s wise to take steps to reduce the risks of hearing loss from exposure to loud noise throughout the workplace.

These steps should include:

Identifying the problematic areas – ensure someone is tasked with the responsibility of identifying areas that exceed the permitted level of noise.  This needs to be checked regularly.

Changing to quieter processes – the best means to avoid the possibility of hearing loss in the workplace is to try to deal with the source of the noise.  Installing quieter machinery should be investigated.  The cost of doing this may appear high – however, claims against the organisation for workplace injury could end up costing much more.

Using hearing protection – noise reduction can be achieved with ear defenders and earplugs, but bear in mind that even the best carry an upper limit in decibel reduction. For example, a good quality earplug that fits the wearer well may carry a noise reduction of up to 20dB.   If a noise assessment measured 110dB in the area and guidelines do not permit noise levels to exceed 80dB this solution alone would be ineffective.

While it is possible to combine two types of hearing protection (e.g. plugs and ear muffs) to increase their dB reduction, employees should never be completely isolated from sound or they can be at risk of not hearing warnings.

Set procedures – policies should outline how the organisation addresses noise reduction and hearing loss.  Clear guidelines should be included regarding when and how hearing protection should be used.  Employees should also be given access to regular hearing tests.

With policies and procedures in place to manage the noise levels in all areas of the workplace, the people who work there will be protected against unnecessary loss of hearing.

Z is for Zoonoses

What is a zoonosis?  It’s a disease that can be transferred from an animal (or bird) to a human.  Think of ‘Mad Cow Disease’ (BST) and Bird Flu – both zoonoses.

Catteries, kennels, equestrian centres, zoos and farms are all places where care needs to be taken.  People who look after any animals need to know the health history of the animals they are caring for to ensure that they are not likely to be at risk.

If you don’t have animals of any kind in your workplace then you may not need to worry, but some of these strains of disease transmute and become able to pass from human to human.  If an epidemic breaks out then services that affect your business can be affected.

The frightening statistic is that, in a study of 1415 pathogens (viruses, bacteria or other disease causing agents) known to affect humans, 61% were zoonotic.  Zoonoses constitute biohazards – and where there is a danger of disease the biohazard signs should be displayed.

You never know when you – or your family – may be at risk.  A petting farm for children in Surrey was closed down because of zoonoses being present.  How many of us would not think twice about taking our children, or young relations, to play with the cuddly animals on a farm?

Does this mean that you avoid all animals at all costs?  No, but it does means that personal hygiene is essential.  If you’re around animals you don’t know, don’t eat or smoke after touching them as there is the potential to transfer bacteria and viruses from the animal to your mouth. The best advice to follow is what your mother told you to do – WASH YOUR HANDS!  If more people bothered to do this regularly, far fewer diseases would survive.

Saving a life v. sticking to the rules

Last month a woman died after being trapped and suffering injuries at the bottom of a disused mine shaft in Strathclyde.  Despite fire and rescue teams being in attendance, the decision was made not to rescue her because of the health and safety policies being followed to the letter.

The inquiry identified a lack of proper risk assessment and inadequate training and planning, not to mention a frightening lack of knowledge of rescue resources available.

The issue of regulations and health and safety legislation saying ‘don’t take these risks’ and the so-called ‘rescue’ services being hobbled from doing what they’re paid for, is always going to cause debate.  There have been a number of cases where rescue personnel have been prosecuted for going outside the regulations – however, equally there have been cases brought against personnel where a lack of action has resulted in a fatality.

Of course, if, whilst rescuing someone, a fire fighter loses their life or the person being rescued suffers long term injuries, there will be an inquiry about what should and shouldn’t have happened.  However, the lack of skills and knowledge cannot be ignored.  Why is it that firefighters in Strathclyde have not been trained in line and rope rescue?  This used to be a part of the recruit course and regularly practised on fire stations.

This situation demonstrates a severe lack of care and professionalism on the part of the officers who made the decisions.  Isn’t it time that all emergency services officers took responsibility for their decisions and did the job they’re paid to do?

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XRay ‘vision’

If your industry requires the use of industrial radiography or encompasses a unit where staff are involved in conducting XRays for medical purposes, it’s important to protect the people who are involved or may be working in the adjacent areas.

Knowing the key things you need to be aware of will ensure that your staff are kept safe and also other people who may be working nearby.

The legislation relating to XRays is regulation 5(2) of the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999 – and HSE must be notified and the use of equipment to produce XRays be authorised before use.

Good practice requires you to:

  • Keep exposure to any people involved or working nearby as low as is practicable.
  • Provide safety features – e.g. shielding for operators, locking devices that prevent people accidentally entering areas where XRays are in progress, cut-off systems that prevent radiation taking place if doors, hatches or other access are not secured.
  • Install warning notices where personnel may be working nearby or passing through an area where XRays are taking place.
  • Monitor radiation levels
  • Secure equipment outside normal working hours
  • Provide warning devices to signal radiation is about to take place and also during radiation.
  • Maintain and test equipment regularly.

Whilst one or two XRays in a hospital or clinic won’t do any damage, exposure to frequent radiation or industrial level XRays can cause long term health issues.  It’s a wise employer who covers all the possibilities and ensures that your staff stay healthy and industrial injury claims are something you don’t have to deal with!

Working at height

You may have seen scary videos on YouTube with people skipping around 10 floors up without any apparent safety equipment, but, if you’re an employer condoning that kind of thing will only end in court.

We’ve already covered stepladders at some length, but there are many other situations where people have to work at height and it’s easy for even experienced operatives to ‘forget’ safety precautions.  In fact, it’s more likely that a newly trained member of staff will observe all the precautions, whilst the old cliché ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ kicks in as the fact that no incidents have happened, generates the misguided belief that some precautions are unnecessary.

The key principle to working at height is ‘don’t do it unless you have to’!  However, assuming that, to get the job done, it’s necessary, then it’s important to observe the regulations.

The core responsibilities of employers according to the Work at Height Regulations 2005 (and the Work at Height (Amendment) Regulations 2007) are that:

  • Risk assessments for any activities taking place at height should take place
  • Appropriate equipment and protection is provided
  • All work at height is well planned and organised
  • People who work at height must be trained and competent
  • Equipment is properly installed and regularly inspected and maintained
  • Delicate surfaces are controlled

Taking these responsibilities a step further it’s important that regular monitoring of the application of safety requirements takes place; both in the way in which employees apply the safety measures and the condition of the equipment and protective devices.

Don’t risk people’s lives and health – or your company’s reputation.

Vicious vibration

Whilst vibration can be beneficial and is often used during relaxing massage sessions – constant vibration can do considerable damage,   Most injuries that result from vibration occur over a period of time so what starts as minor discomfort turns into a long term chronic injury.

If you (or people who work for you) handle equipment that vibrates over long periods of time can result in disorder and damage to blood vessels, nerves and joints.  This can arise from using hand held power tools, but can also be the result of driving vehicles over rough ground for long periods of time and other activities that jolt or shake the human frame.  This kind of vibration can cause tissue injuries and can even dislodge internal organs.

The problem is that once damage occurs the effects are usually long term and cannot be cured, although the symptoms may be alleviated to some extent.  This means that employers need to be vigilant about the effects of vibration.

The legislation relating to this is the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 and employers should assess the risks and take steps to reduce or eliminate risks from hand-arm vibration.  When usage is occasional it’s unlikely to be a problem; it’s when daily use of vibrating equipment is involved that the situation needs to be assessed and addressed.

Ideally, control measures should be in place and information, training and health monitoring should be available to employees.

  • Health symptoms that flag up potential hazards include:
  • Tingling and numbness
  • Pain in the hands, arms, back or joints
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Painful finger blanching in cold or damp conditions
  • Reduction of the ability to do fine work or everyday tasks – like fastening buttons or working with precision.
  • Weakening of the grip.

If hand-guided or hand-held power tools or machines are used daily or the environment generates vibration (foundries, heavy steel fabrication, construction) it’s essential to carry out careful checks on employees’ health.

If members of your staff fall victim to vibration-related health problems you’ll lose a trained operative and they’ll lose their livelihood.  It’s much better to be ahead of the game and ensure your staff and your business are protected from these injuries.

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U is for UV rays

If you’re wondering how UV could possibly affect your workplace – UV scanners are used to check out currency for fakes and to check for faults in metals used in construction.

Anyone who works outside may be affected by UV rays from the sun on those bright days. It’s often the bright, but not actually sunny, days that are most likely to cause problems as people can burn even if not in direct sunlight. Reflected rays are just as harmful and a light haze won’t stop the UV rays damaging exposed skin.

It’s important that outside workers are educated about the potential damage – not least skin cancer in the long term. Proper protection should be provided as with any other job where harmful agents are present – sunscreen, hats, good sunglasses, proper clothing, etc.

However, from the point of view of caring for your staff, it’s often their off duty activities where they are more likely to come into contact with UV rays. Think of how many times you hear members of staff planning to visit a ‘tan-stand’ to put a bit of colour on their skin prior to a beach holiday.
No, we’re not recommending you install a lunch-break tanning facility, but educating your staff could ensure you don’t lose working time when people don’t know the dangers of UV radiation.

Without the right knowledge and protection using UV rays can result in:#

  • Burns
  • Skin dryness and itching
  • Eye irritation or damage (this is particularly important where UV lamps are concerned, the right eye protection is essential)
  • Skin cancer
  • Premature ageing of the skin

Operators of all UV equipment – whether in a tanning parlour or in the workplace must follow the regulations to safeguard both staff and clients. They must also carry out risk assessments, ensure the correct replacement tubes are fitted, that staff are properly trained and aware of the risks and that customers are fully informed and protected as far as is practicable.

Whether your staff are working out in the sunshine or inside with UV equipment don’t forget to ensure they are properly educated and protected.

Care cutbacks can cost lives

The government’s latest economies are hitting people who need care to continue to live independently.  This seems to be in opposition to another core ‘value’ they announced, not all that long ago – to reduce fire deaths in people’s homes.

If people who need care have less care, they are more at risk in the event of a fire.  If they live in a building with a stay-put policy – meaning that they don’t leave their home unless the fire actually puts them at risk – and, without care, are unable to self-evacuate when needed, the result will be more deaths from fire, in the home.

Registered Social Landlords have a duty to house and also a duty to identify those who cannot self-evacuate and provide them with a Personal Evacuation Plan.  However, without the resources to provide the facilities to do so they are in a situation where they are unable to fulfil their duty.

Part of the assessment process may identify that people are living in the wrong premises, being on an upper floor where they are unable to get out without help.  This leaves the housing provider with difficult decisions – how do you move someone out of their home?

Even now there is little discussion between the housing providers and the care providers.  The very young, elderly, inform and disabled are already not getting the proper care – what will happen when the budgets are slashed even further?

Less care equals more risks in relation to fires.  That doesn’t equate to a reduction in fire deaths in the home.  Could someone please make their mind up – and consider human beings in the process of their decision making?

Training for a safe workplace

Many people think that, in order to train people, they must attend a formal training session in a classroom environment, however, that isn’t really true.  People learn by many different methods from reading a poster to learning by doing.

  • People learn from reading posters, signs and written procedures.
  • They can learn by working with an experienced colleague who will ‘show them the ropes’.  This used to be known as ‘sitting by Nellie’.
  • In today’s technological age some things can be learned by using a computer as a learning aid.
  • Formal courses to acquire qualifications also contribute to competence.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASWA) requires the employer to provide instruction, information and training.  In many places the Act also refers to a ‘Competent Person’.

Competence depends not only on the capability of an individual, but on the appropriateness of that capability to the particular task in hand. A simple mnemonic to apply to competency is KEPT

  • Knowledge
  • Experience
  • Personal attributes
  • Training and qualifications

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, reg.13(2) (MHSWR) states that adequate health and safety training must be provided whenever it is most likely to be needed.  This includes:

  • On first starting with the organisation (Induction)
  • On the change of function / new responsibilities within the organisation
  • On the introduction of new work equipment / a change of the current work equipment / new technology into the work of the staff
  • On the introduction of new systems of work or processes or a significant change those already in existence

The regulations also state that the training is repeated periodically – although no time scale is suggested – this indicates that it’s important to refresh skills and knowledge at regular intervals.  This will depend on the risk levels relating to the activities – the higher the risk, the more frequently training will be needed.

Not only should training take place, but records of training – the programme, the attendees, the date and what was covered – must be kept for at least three years.

Common sense dictates that a training plan for all staff relating to their roles, skills, safety, responsibilities and changing legislation should be put in place and regularly updated.

Chris Hilder

The first Safety Games!

We’re asked to do some unusual things from time to time and this article that was published in Safety Management (published with permission) demonstrates one of our unique consultancy projects.

Superyacht manufacturer holds shipshape Safety Olympics

On a sunny day in August, Pendennis Worldclass Superyachts one of Cornwall’s largest employers and a member of the British Safety Council, held a day of interactive safety games followed by the British Safety Council’s level 1 examination. Based in Falmouth Docks, Pendennis is one of the world’s leading builders of superyachts and provider of refit facilities.  The company employs around 350 staff who work in a variety of environments.  Those working on the yachts face a number of hazards, ranging from dangerous chemicals to working at height and manual handling. The 200 staff that took part in the day were divided into teams of five and send around a circuit, participating in games and activities to teach them about key health and safety issues that they face, but in a fun and engaging way. Each workstation was supervised by a manager and covered one of the main syllabus points of the level 1 course.  Against a backdrop of sailing vessels on the calm harbour water, staff tested the accuracy of their aim with fire extinguishers; others played snakes and ladders to highlight the legal aspect of health and safety, whilst some play darts to learn about the dangers of hazardous chemicals. After a busy morning the workers – who ranged from apprentice joiners to admin staff – sat their level 1 exam. The consultancy Risk and Safety Plus helped produce the original games plan and timetabling.  This was then taken by the supervisors who developed the content of the games.  “The expected outcome here was a culture change,” says Malcolm Tullett, director of Risk and Safety Plus.  “Pendennis Worldclass Superyachts has taken on board the fact that all its staff need to be involved.  We talked to all of the managers, nearly 60 of them, and they were the ones who put this together today.  They’ve done a really good job.”

Nigel Strawbridge, health and safety adviser at Pendennis says “Our people make Pendennis what it is – an award winning superyacht company.  Our commitment to their safety in the workplace is paramount to ensuring their wellbeing as well as a happy and well-trained organisation.  Health and safety is vital to this and working with organisations like the British Safety Council and Risk and Safety Plus on innovative projects like this demonstrates our consistent approach.”

If you’d like to know more about this kind of event please contact us on 0845 430 9461 for more information.