You have recently joined Park Health and Safety as an Occupational Health and Hygiene Partner, how is that going for you?
Great! Park are very much aligned with my background, approach and interests in H&S management. It is giving me an opportunity to get to work with lots of organisations who want to tackle a variety of health and safety issues with a variety of interventions
On your profile on the Park website, you mention that you aim to provide ‘solutions that demystify and empower those with responsibilities for health risks’. Do you come across a lot of employees that seem overwhelmed by this and if so how can this be avoided?
I think there is a lot of ‘mystery’ and confusion around health in the workplace and what employers (and others) are expected to do. For me it is simply good management. I do believe ownership is key and so I aim to help employers understand their critical role in ‘owning’ the problem of both health exposures and workers health problems in the workplace. It’s not all about nurses, medical checks and absence management – a more proactive and preventative approach is where actions have the most impact – both in terms of reducing illness and harm and being more cost effective.
At H&S North you are sitting on the panel of discussions ‘Using RPE’ and ‘Managing Noise and Vibration’. If you could, please just briefly run us through the key points that you’d like to discuss in the RPE session.
Ensuring when relying on RPE how important it is to ensure this is suitable – for the task and exposure, appropriate - for the worker and environment and everyone understands how to use it to achieve 100% protection 100% of the time and why this is so important (relating to the potential for serious irreversible disease and early deaths)
And what are some key issues you’d like to address?
A big one for me is to think beyond ‘beard management’ – if this is what risk management has come to, we have a big problem! It’s about controlling risks, protecting people from serious disease – there must be better ways than chasing people with razors & foam!!
Quite! The beard has certainly come back in fashion, but this shouldn’t affect how we deal with serious risk. How can employers ‘think beyond?’
I’d like to think by highlighting how difficult and costly it can be to properly manage an RPE programme many employers will realise efforts would be better spent in trying to eliminate and reduce exposures at source. RPE should be the last resort in protecting workers and all other options should have been fully explored first. Many employers won’t admit it but can see RPE as the easy option – placing the onus on workers to look after their own exposure – but it doesn’t work like that. It takes a lot of effort to select, fit, educate & supervise an RPE programme.
How essential to an RPE programme is fit testing?
Fit testing is obviously an essential element of any RPE programme that is relying on a tight seal to provide protection. People can potentially feel invincible when wearing a mask – maybe being less careful with the creation and distribution of dust if they have a mask – but these masks fail to catastrophe ie harmful exposure and it may be that you don’t even know you’ve been exposed. It needs to be sealed and stay sealed. Common misconceptions are that fit testing applies to any mask – it is only for the specific mask which you were tested with and it is only a pass on that day – still need to ‘fit check’ to make sure it fits every wear and don’t wear for too long (ie over an hour depending on the task obviously) because movement sweat etc means it will move and produce gaps.
And in the Managing Noise and Vibration session, what are the key points you are think should be covered?
2 different risks but often arise from the same task! Noise is more than hearing protection and hearing checks and managing HAV (hand arm vib) is more than fancy tool timers and complicated calculations. These risks can often be obvious to spot and so try to keep it simple and put cost effective controls in place rather than over focus on providing detailed measurements of an obvious problem!
If these risks are fairly obvious, what are the key issues that need to be addressed on the topic – noise induced hearing loss?
It is an often overlooked issue and health problem – we may have less heavy industry but employers will also need to consider that many of the workforce have been plugged into sound producing devices from a young age and could be coming to work with a hearing loss.
Also simply don’t waste money on annual noise surveys if you know where the key noise sources are coming from – spend that money investing in buying quieter machinery and kit, isolating machines from the structure and maintaining plant. This might be very cost effective in reducing need for hearing protection and health surveillance needs.
The recurring message seems to be reducing at the source, does the same apply with vibration?
Yes, reducing exposure is the key. HSE have produced a table of likely in use emission values from common tools which can be used to estimate exposures – without the need for continuous monitoring. The problems with continuous monitoring are the vast amounts of data produced and how you are going to use this to manage and more importantly reduce exposure and prevent harm.
What is the main thing you would like guests to take away from the session, and what they can gain from attending H&S North?
I hope attendees get some simple relevant advice to be able to act to reduce exposures to health risks. That the advice and access to new products and services cuts through the confusion and over complicated bureaucracy that often accompanies health management and is not required by law!!
What can businesses gain from attending H&S North?
Cutting edge advice, products and consultancy services inspiring presentations and of course meeting old and new faces!!
Any new legislation/research that has been released that is of particular interest to you?
I’m looking at the possibility and feasibility of setting up a UK multidisciplinary Hearing Conservation Association – with an initial meeting on the 26th Sep with key representatives across professional bodies, product manufacturers and service providers.
This could be a forum for instigating new research, providing useful industry advice and support and access to simple ideas to improve protection of people at work exposed to noise!
Thanks so much Clare, we can’t wait to see you at Health & Safety North!