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Be aware what you breath

03 August 2009

Operators who regularly face respiratory hazards at work are putting their health in serious danger if they are not properly protected. Workers in the process industries are at a particularly high risk due to the nature of the sector where dust and vapour clouds can be commonplace. Often the effects of working unprotected may not emerge straight away, but cause serious problems later on in life.

Be aware of what you're breathing
Be aware of what you're breathing

To help reduce occupational respiratory disease by raising awareness of the issues around it, the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) has launched a joint initiative with the HSE entitled: Clean Air?Take Care!

It is of great concern as the inhalation of harmful substances may pass unnoticed for long periods of time as no symptoms are apparent. According to a survey carried out by the Health and Safety Executive, around 5.5million employees in some 220,000 workplaces are potentially at risk of respiratory disease. Further research has shown that up to an estimated 75% of these workers are not adequately protected from inhalation exposure of hazardous substances; they may have access to RPE but, frequently, it doesn’t offer the level of protection that is required. Incorrectly selected, sized and poorly fitted RPE defeats the object of wearing it.

One of the major reasons that the RPE is ineffective is that it simply does not fit, regardless of the quality of the equipment. Where a face seal is necessary, an appropriate fit test must be conducted by a competent person, however this isn’t as straightforward as it seems. Up until now, fit testers of RPE have not been accredited, often making the selection of a “competent” person a matter of luck and guess work. Unfortunately a lack of suitable knowledge, skills, experience and understanding of fit testing can leave the wearer of the equipment wide open to potential respiratory health problems.

Targeted at the users of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) and organisations that may need to deploy RPE to protect their staff, the campaign aims to highlight the problems and promote sensible solutions to respiratory protection, including the correct selection, deployment use, maintenance and storage of RPE.

Employees have a right to be informed of the potential dangers that they face in their workplace and to be given the tools to protect themselves adequately. For employers, whilst there is a moral obligation to correctly protect their staff, there are also legal implications for failing to do so properly. UK safety and health regulations stipulate that RPE must be correctly selected and those using the equipment should receive adequate training.

The Clean Air?Take Care! campaign will increase awareness, highlight the problems and promote sensible solutions to respiratory protection in the workplace. Through a range of national activities and educational seminars, RPE users, employers, fit testers and advisers will be targeted with simple information on the correct selection, deployment, use, maintenance and storage of RPE.

Visit or call the BSIF on 01745 585 600
Call the HSE info line on 0207 717 6000.

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