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All the gear and no idea: Provision of PPE without adequate training is leaving construction workers at risk of harm

  • 7 Aug 2018

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Bryan Lawrie, Director at leading health and safety company, Arco, reveals the importance of specialist training for UK construction workers and how industry leaders need to do more to educate and protect employees.

The construction industry needs to urgently address training issues around Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to ensure that workers are suitably protected, according to a new survey commissioned by the UK’s leading safety company, Arco.

The survey has revealed that a shocking 35% of construction workers have never received training or guidance on specialist PPE from their employer and a staggering 65% have never been face-fitted for RPE.

The findings, which were part of a survey of nearly 500 construction professionals undertaken by Arco into how the construction industry uses PPE, are particularly concerning given that 80,000 construction workers suffer from work-related ill health each year in Great Britain 1 making it one of the most dangerous industries to work in. Health risks include exposure to asbestos, construction dust, lifting and carrying and noise and vibration, all of which can leave construction workers at risk of
suffering from both short and long-term injuries and conditions.

Suitable PPE can protect workers against these hazards but only if it is worn and used correctly. While Arco’s survey confirmed that construction workers are being issued with a reasonable range of PPE, including 81% being supplied with safety gloves; 60% with safety boots; 71% with hard hats and 59% with face masks, the survey revealed that training and support to help workers use products correctly is
seriously inadequate.

Most alarmingly 65% of respondents have never been face-fitted for respiratory protective equipment (RPE) – if RPE doesn’t fit the wearer’s face correctly it is likely to leak, making it ineffective. Also of serious concern was that 22% of respondents said they don’t know where to go for help and advice about PPE.

Worryingly when it comes to comfort, 41% of those surveyed described experiencing some level of discomfort from their PPE with 6% saying their PPE was either very uncomfortable or they experienced frequent discomfort. Aside from affecting levels of protection, this is likely to affect productivity and morale. Given that one-fifth of workers said they didn’t know where to turn for advice on PPE, many of these workers are likely to be suffering in silence.

Employers may wish to take note that Safety Footwear ranked as construction workers’ top priority when it comes to PPE with 90% of those surveyed required to wear Safety Boots and 52% saying it was a personal priority when it comes to PPE. Footwear should be non-slip, have adequate midsole and toe cap protection ensuring workers are not at risk of a penetrating foot injury.

Another area of PPE which seems to be commonly neglected according to the survey is sun protection. Despite the skin cancer burden of working outdoors being well-documented only 19% of construction workers reported being issued with sun cream, suggesting this is an area that needs rapid review given that most construction workers are outdoors for long periods of time.

Sadly more than 1 in 4 construction workers (28%) also said that they felt that employee safety and well-being is not a priority for their employer which in an industry as dangerous as construction, is a serious cause for concern.

In terms of work-related health concerns, nearly half of construction workers are worried about ongoing physical health issues such as back injuries and noise and vibration, while accidents at work were a concern for 46% of respondents and hazardous substances such as dust and chemicals are also a worry for 29%. Meanwhile, work-related cancer was a cause for concern for 15% of those
questioned.

Under the law, employers are responsible for the health, safety and welfare of their employees, including provision and use of PPE at work 2 so it is essential that they ensure employees are being properly protected and seek expert advice where necessary. As well as supplying a comprehensive range of products that are designed specifically to help protect construction workers, Arco has a team of experienced safety, health and environmental advisors who are available to offer clear, pragmatic advice and training to ensure PPE is doing the job properly. They can also advise how best to protect against a range of risks and recommend the right PPE for the job.

The findings of the survey didn’t contain all bad news. More than three quarters of those surveyed said that there are safety signs in their workplace reminding employees to wear PPE and the same amount said PPE was covered in their initial safety briefing.

Reassuringly 95% of construction workers surveyed also reported feeling safe at work and said that they felt a personal responsibility for staying safe suggesting that workers are becoming better engaged with health and safety. With the right specialist support, employers will be able to make sure they stay protected.

For more information about Arco products, services or expert guides, visit the Arco website.

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