In Health and Safety the focus has very much been on safety for almost as long as I can remember. However, over the last couple of years, the HSE have concentrated more on health risks and in particular in the manufacturing industries.
27 fatalities are seen here every year and 3% or 86000 employees have illness attributed to their workplace.
A new round of unannounced HSE inspections has just begun focussing on the two main causes of ill health in the food manufacturing sector. These are occupational asthma due to the exposure to flour dust in bakeries, grain mills, and cake and biscuit factories and Musculoskeletal disorders MSD’s including lower back pain and upper limb disorders as well as stress which is a big cause of mental health problems within the workplace.
Of course, it isn’t just flour dust that is harmful; wood, grain, silica and perhaps the one most people have heard of, asbestos, are all problematic.
How can dust harm health?
Breathing in the often invisible dust can deposit it in the nose, throat, mouth and lungs and can cause breathing problems over time.
Swallowing it can cause gastrointestinal problems or get into other organs via the blood stream.
Eyes can become irritated or damaged and it can cause dermatitis, irritation or ulceration of the skin.
What does an employer have to do?
These are substances hazardous to health so fall under COSHH and asbestos has its own set of regulations.
- Prevent, reduce or control dust using a method proportionate to the risk.
- Train staff.
- Provide information on the hazards and necessary controls.
- And where you cannot reduce levels enough by other means you must use PPE or RPE in combination with them.
- Make sure RPE doesn’t interfere with other PPE such as goggles.
Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) or Masks are either full face or half face and must be suitable to reduce the exposure of the dust to below workplace exposure limits. They must also fit the user properly. The only way this can be demonstrated effectively is via the use of a Fit Test. This is either via a qualitative (cheaper, more simple and relies on tasting a test substance) or quantitative test (more expensive and more accurate, counting particles).
Who can carry out this test?
You must use someone who has been trained and is competent to do the test. They may also be Fit2Fit registered but do not necessarily have to be.
Is everyone suitable for a fit test?
Only people who are clean-shaven can have a qualitative fit test. This is because it’s carried out on close-fitting masks and a beard and some moustaches can alter the effectiveness of the seal to the face. Those with beards have to wear full face masks for which the quantitative test is used.
What will the test tell me?
The session will show that the type of mask chosen is suitable for use for the person being tested. Each different type of mask a person wears requires a new test.