How safe are your employees on the job?

September 14, 2015

5 need-to-know steps when choosing personal protective equipment

A leading standards certifier is urging employers and site managers in the agriculture, construction, resources and manufacturing industries to evaluate the effectiveness of personal protective equipment for their employees. The recommendation comes in an environment where many suppliers and retailers are continuing to offer protective equipment that fails to meet rigorous Australian safety standards.

 

With many presuming that all safety products such as hard hats, safety glasses, respirator masks, hearing protectors, fall arrestors and safety footwear meet mandatory requirements, the company behind the well-known Five Ticks StandardsMark™ certification, SAI Global, cautions this is not always the case. 

 

Richard Donarski, Team Leader Health and Safety, Product Services at SAI Global, says that despite there being various Australian Standards® (sometimes optional) for safety equipment, some manufacturers and suppliers may not comply with them, and others are ignorant of them, particularly when a product is developed overseas.

 

“It's a common misconception that all  personal safety items are subject to and  must meet mandatory standards,” says Richard. “The reality is, as many standards aren't legislated, manufacturers choose not to apply standards to their processes . The consequence is that the very products designed to keep us safe may not  necessarily do their jobs as expected . This is why it's essential for employers, safety supervisors and managers to look for an approved symbol from a reputable certifier, like the “Five Ticks”, when buying these essential items.”

 

Manufacturers who choose to have  their safety products independently certified against Australian Standards® are more likely to have a sound understanding of  the hazards their products are designed to protect against, as the the manufacturing processes and end products  will have  been independently tested against  safety criteria set by the relevant Australian Standards®. 

 

By introducing personal protective equipment that has not been independently certified into the workplace,organisations may be exposing employees and others to significant illness or injury. Research shows that around 130,000 Australians per year make serious workers' compensation claims due to work related illness or injury, estimated to cost employers around $60.6 billion collectively[1].

 

Richard says, “Toxic poisoning through inhalation or skin contact, fragments in the eye, cuts and amputations, skull fractures and even loss of hearing can all be a result of incidents that occur while using uncertified personal protection equipment. A cheap pair of safety glasses may look okay, but are unlikely to withstand the pressure of a fragment of steel that may hurtle through the air at speed. Similarly, a respirator mask may not act as an efficient barrier to any hazardous chemicals or materials you're working with.”  

 

As Australia's leading product certification body , SAI Global is continuously working with manufacturers nationally and internationally to ensure equipment and products that comply with Australian and international quality and safety standards are available to Australian consumers. . SAI Global's well-known Five Ticks StandardsMark™ is the most recognised certification mark for personal protective equipment, applied to many thousands of products per year. The Five Ticks StandardsMark™ logo can provide assurance to consumers that the product has met safety and other relevant criteria set by Australian Standards®. 

 

As an expert in health and safety products,  Richard Donarski provides five tips to choosing personal protective equipment in the workplace:

 

  1. Ask an expert. While all equipment looks the same, it doesn't necessarily mean that it does the job. For example, a particular respirator mask may only be compatible with certain chemicals or materials. When unsure, ask the supplier and provide them with the exact details of what the equipment will be used for. If ordering online then call or submit an enquiry. Don't take a gamble with your employees, especially when working with dangerous equipment or chemicals.
     
  2. Purchase certified safety equipment only. This equipment will be branded with an appropriate certification mark, the Australian Standard reference, and should include the name of the organisation, the date it was certified and a Certification Licence number. Be aware that not all products that claim to be certified are to an Australian standard. To be safe, look out for the Five Ticks 'Certified Product' StandardsMark™ or enter the Certification Licence number online at http://register.saiglobal.com/ to source further details.
     
  3. Be careful when buying second hand. Do you really know what that piece of equipment has been through? For example, a hard hat may look okay, but if it's been left out in the sun every day, the chances are that its protection is nowhere near the level it should be due to strong UV rays, weakening its shell. Additionally, second hand DIY equipment may come with zero instructions. “They're not the kind of equipment that you want to be playing a guessing game with,” Richard says.
     
  4. Double check all sizes. A hard hat or safety harness that's a millimetre too small can be life threatening should an incident occur. Check all sizes with employees before placing orders for products and, once they arrive, test that these fit accordingly. “Manufacturers can work to different sizes, so testing the product on an individual is essential to ensuring it fits appropriately.”
     
  5. Renew and evaluate equipment regularly. Setting a calendar reminder to evaluate and renew equipment every few months isn't enough. Some tasks are larger than others and, if an employee has been working on an intense job, then their protective gear may become ineffective at a quicker rate due to wear and tear. Richard recommends evaluating equipment prior to every job rather than per calendar month.For more information on product certification visit www.saiglobal.com

[1]http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/about/publications/pages/key-whs-stats-2013