PPE last choice for safety - TunnelTalk
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PPE last line of defence for safety at work Sep 2010
Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk
Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be the last resort for safeguarding the occupational health of workers in the workplace and not the first line of defence, was the clear message delivered by Dr Donald Lamont to a meeting of the Young Members of the British Tunnelling Society this week (Monday 13 September 2010).

Full body protection in a heavily contaminated environment

"PPE is 'personal' protective equipment. Regulations require that the hazard to health and safety be minimised, if not eliminated, before issuing personal protective equipment," said the recently retired Head of Tunnel and Ground Engineering in the Civil Engineering Specialist Team at the British HSE - Health & Safety Executive. "Reducing the generation of dust or lowering the emission of noise at source is the legal requirement ahead of issuing dust masks or ear defenders," he explained. "In the near future, HSE will be enforcing the need to consider dust emissions as one of the criteria when designing a shotcrete mix," he said. "There will be an expanded section on occupational health in the revised BS 6164 'Code of practice for safety in tunnelling in the construction industry' of 2001 when published by the BSI planned for 2011."
Dr Donald Lamont C.Eng FICE has worked for the HSE for the past 27 years and has monitored health and safety issues through association with a large number of tunnelling projects in the UK as well as abroad. He is the BTS representative for the UK at the ITA (International Tunnelling Association) and is Animateur of the ITA Working Group 5 on Health and Safety in Tunnel Works. He is also a UK representative on the European CEN committee on tunnelling machinery safety and a Civil Engineering Inspector of the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority. Lamont has dedicated much of his career to the advancement of safe working under compressed air in the tunnelling industry and earned his PhD from Aston University, Birmingham, for a study of decompression illness in UK tunnellers. On retiring from the HSE at the end of August, Lamont has established his own consultancy Hyperbaric & Tunnelling Safety Ltd.
Pic 1

Donald Lamont, a career in safety

"Increased awareness has improved the health and safety of workers in the tunnelling industry enormously over recent times but we still battle against some fundamental issues. There is a low level of concern by society towards health and safety at work and a general lack of safety culture and of ownership of the associated problems among owners, consultants and contractors in the industry. The work force is transient, which impacts the keeping of personal health records from job to job, and there is often failure by new recruits to recognise the specific hazards of tunnelling work and the working environment. There are many anomalies in the approaches for pre-screening fitness for work among candidates and the awareness of ill health due to working in the tunnelling industry.

Consequences of excessive hand vibration

"It was recently reported that a construction worker is 100 times more likely to die of work related illness than from an accident. These work related illnesses in tunnelling can include silicosis from dust inhalation, and mesothelioma due to the use of asbestos in various caulking products that are now banned. Mesothelioma is now one of the biggest killers in the construction industry as a whole with the highest number of deaths due to the condition anticipated in 2015/16. The condition may not become critical until many years after first inhaling the deadly fibres. Other chronic illness that affect tunnel workers are cement burns, skin disease due to handling toxic products, deafness, bone necrosis due to working in compressed air, hand and arm vibration damage, and back and skeletal problems due to heavy manual work and heavy lifting.
"There are government regulations to protect workers from exposure to all these dangers but there is little awareness of general occupational ill health. It is seriously under reported. There is the macho syndrome with tunnel workers failing to report ill health until the condition is critical, as well as the 'healthy workforce' phenomenon where only those who are healthy are working. The ill leave work and are dropped from statistics. They effectively disappear. It is unclear how much disability or unemployment in the general population is due to work-related ill health.
"Fitness for work has become something of a mine field in recent times. Screening includes checks on blood pressure, heart/lung function, hearing, eyesight, and for smoking and alcohol consumption. These days screening for drug and alcohol abuse is sometimes taking a precedent over screening for other conditions. Providing there is no sign of alcohol or drugs in a sample, other conditions such as high blood pressure or being overweight or shortness of breath are being overlooked. Abuse of illegal drugs is a particular issue and might affect the drugs workers use in preference to others. Cannabis for example can be detected days or weeks after use, where as traces of harder drugs such as heroin and cocaine are expunged from the body within 24 hours - before a screening on a Monday morning.

Severe cement burns

"Regular surveillance, notification of previous conditions, the keeping of accurate records, awareness and compliance with regulations, and efforts to eliminate hazards, as far as reasonably practical, rather than issuing PPE as a first choice, are the foundations of a responsible regime towards worker health and safety on a project. All aspects of a safety regime need to be compatible and appropriate, rather than an overload of different measures and reliance on the easy issuance of gloves, glasses and ear plugs. The reporting of accidents and of dangerous situations as well as being aware of the welfare of your fellow worker is of equal importance. Working on tunnelling projects can be stressful with long working hours and shift work rotations. Noticing signs of stress or tiredness in others can be the first step towards avoiding serious accidents."
The meeting ended with questions and anecdotes from the audience and notification that the presentation PowerPoint will be loaded to the BTSYM website. Reference was also made to many free publications that are available on the HSE and BTS websites that deal specifically with health and safety regulations, research and developments. In November, the BTS will conduct a two-day Underground Health & Safety Course at the ICE (Institution of Civil Engineers) in Great George Street on Monday 22nd and Tuesday 23rd. For more information download the program and registration form pdf.
References
BTS Underground Health & Safety Course - 22-23 November, 2010
UK Health and Safety Executive - HSE
BTS Young Members - BTSYM
The UK Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992
BS 6164-2001 Code of practice for safety in tunnelling in the construction industry
Free PDF downloads from the HSE website
Free PDF downloads from the BTS website
Best Practice Guidance to Occupational Exposure to Nitrogen Monoxide in a Tunnel Environment
The Managment of Hand-Arm Vibration in Tunnelling - Guide to Good Practice

           

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