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Training For Life

Published: 30th May 2014 in OSA Magazine

Personal protective equipment (PPE) has helped save many lives in a wide range of industries. In particular, the importance of PPE cannot be overstated in almost every construction, trade and resource related occupation.

While some industries present more workplace hazards than others, industrial grade PPE is an important requirement for any employer or employee working in industries and businesses that require physical exertion and pose risks to individuals’ wellbeing. Occupational health and safety (OHS) hazards must be addressed in these industries to ensure employees can work effectively and efficiently without risk of accident, injury or illness.

Background

The Australian Fair Work Act 2009 requires employers to provide their employees with a worksite that is adequately protected against accidents, injuries and illness. A major factor to remaining compliant with this legislation is the provision of PPE in the workplace. Additionally, employers and managers are required to ensure all workers receive sufficient training and supervision in the use and maintenance of PPE and other tools.

While general occupational tasks can become hazardous through the actions of employees and others on the worksite, there are four particular sectors where PPE becomes a life and death requirement at almost any level. These include asbestos removal, working in a confined space, working at heights and traffic management.

Inadequate training and knowledge can render even the most comprehensive PPE provision redundant. This is because many of these devices require an understanding of appropriate set-up, use and impact in order to operate effectively.

When used incorrectly, PPE becomes just another hazard in an already dangerous workplace. An untrained and unsupervised individual could potentially increase their risk of injury, as well as put their colleagues in danger, simply by misusing their PPE. It is therefore crucial that any employee who requires PPE is adequately trained in the device’s set-up, use and importance.

Confined space context

Confined space is one of the most dangerous environments in which an individual can find themselves. When work requires an employee to enter a confined space, it is crucial that the employee has access to all the necessary equipment and tools to mitigate the risk of an accident, illness or injury caused by the work environment.

The Safe Work Australia Code of Practice 2014 defines a confined space as an enclosed or partially enclosed area that is not designed or intended for human occupation. Additionally, confined spaces are identified as areas with high risk to health and safety due to atmospheric conditions, contaminants or engulfment. These areas can include grain silos, crawl-space within industrial equipment, and water or sewerage tanks.

With a risk of high concentrations of dangerous gas or airborne particles, individuals who are required to enter a confined space should always use appropriate masks and breathing assist devices. This includes ensuring the employee has an adequate supply of oxygen, either from a tank worn on their person, or administered through an extended line.

Other important pieces of PPE are the gas and atmosphere monitors. These devices can be used to measure the levels of oxygen in an enclosed space, sending alerts or alarms to workers if the concentration of dangerous gas or contaminants becomes too high. While these devices are typically fixed to building walls and confined space points, some mobile monitors can be carried or worn by the employee to ensure the readings the individual receives are accurate within the worker’s own breathing space.

The provision of PPE, such as breathing apparatus and masks, can assist in the reduction of these environmental and atmospheric risks. This is an important step towards protecting employee health and safety, although it is also crucial to provide individuals with training on their correct use, and response to any incidents when employees are overcome and injured within a confined space.

Often, would-be rescuers also succumb to the hazardous conditions, as their haste to rescue a colleague clouds judgement regarding safety and protection. According to Fire and Safety Australia, the vast majority – 92 percent – of confined space fatalities in Western Australia are caused by a lack of confined space entry training. Furthermore, approximately 60 percent of confined space fatalities occur when personnel have attempted to rescue an injured or trapped individual from within a confined space.

It is therefore important to ensure that staff are not only provided the right equipment but are also trained in the appropriate responses to confined space emergencies.

In addition to protecting an employee against atmospheric conditions and engulfment, working in a confined space can also require an individual to equip themselves against the hazards of working at heights. This is because enclosed space situations can include the need to enter the top of a silo or tank.

While a fall arrest system is primarily used in situations when the space is empty and there is a risk of falling to the ground, this form of PPE can also be helpful when working on top of material that could potentially shift – such as grain – resulting in engulfment.

PPE related harnesses and tethers can help rescue efforts when the atmosphere or space becomes too dangerous for rescuers. This is because the tethered ropes can assist rescuers in finding an individual without having to spend extended amounts of time within the confined space.

If engulfment occurs, the rescuers can follow the tethered rope to reach the incapacitated employee quickly and efficiently. Additionally, if able, the individual could also use their tether to find their own way to the exit if they were to become disorientated.

Asbestos removal

Asbestos is a major issue in Australia and around the world, with significant health risks to workers and civilians when these dangerous particles become airborne. Exposure to asbestos has been discovered to cause a number of serious lung diseases, including the often incurable strain of cancer, Mesothelioma.

Due to the long term incubation of these illnesses, the health risks surrounding asbestos fibres were not discovered until late into the material’s manufacturing life. This means a huge number of products containing asbestos have become integrated into homes, workplaces and equipment across Australia.

While some forms of the fibres were banned in Australia throughout the late 1970s and 80s, the use of chrysotile (white) asbestos continued until the end of 2003. Since then, extensive programmes have been put in place to help identify and remove any materials that contain asbestos in Australian homes and workplaces.

Under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Code of Practice, Safe Work Australia set out a framework outlining recommendations for the safe removal of asbestos. Discovering and dealing with asbestos contamination is a huge industry in Australia, as state regulations require only trained professionals remove and dispose of substantial deposits.

By law, any non-friable (bonded) asbestos less than ten square metres in size can be removed without a licence. All other asbestos removal projects require trained and licensed professionals to undertake the work.

Asbestos removal is a dangerous task that requires a specific range of PPE to protect individuals and the surrounding environment from potential airborne particles and contamination. In particular, many people believe an ordinary dust mask may be enough to prevent the inhalation of asbestos fibres, but, while these masks can protect against many contaminants, they will not provide adequate protection against asbestos.

When dealing with asbestos, all individuals must wear a special P2 face respirator to filter the fibres from breath. These masks can be purchased from almost any safety shop or hardware store across Australia.

Ensuring this mask is secured properly is a crucial step in avoiding asbestos inhalation. With an incorrectly fitted respirator, individuals could unintentionally inhale asbestos fibres, increasing their risk of developing a serious lung disease in the future.
Safe Work Australia recommends men be clean shaven to ensure a tight seal between their face and the mask. Any individual using a P2 class respirator should read the manufacturer’s instructions or undergo thorough training to ensure an airtight fit is achieved.

In addition to using the correct mask, those working with asbestos are required to wear disposable clothing to prevent asbestos fibres being carried outside of the workplace.

When dealing with potentially airborne asbestos, individuals who wear their normal uniform or personal clothing risk carrying disturbed fibres with them when they leave the worksite. Additionally, failing to wear hats, gloves and boot covers could also result in dangerous asbestos fibres settling on the worker’s hair, hands and shoes.

Once the work has been completed, it is also vital to ensure these items of clothing are correctly disposed of. Do not keep the clothing, re-use, shake the dust out or attempt to launder it. Before removing the items, carefully spray your clothing with a light mist of water to help prevent fibres from becoming airborne. It is important to keep your respirator on during this process. You should then seal your outfit in double bags – at least 200 micron thick – and then dispose of these waste bags at an official facility.

Working at heights training

Every time a worker is raised above ground level, they face an increased risk of falling, tripping or slipping. Once an employee reaches two metres off the ground, the risk of serious injuries or even fatality increases exponentially.

This is why recent amendments to the Australian WHS regulations require employers to take “specific control measures” when there is a risk of an individual falling at least three metres in housing construction, or two metres in other work. Additionally, at any height above the ground, employers are required to accurately identify any potential fall hazards and suitably mitigate these risks with use of safety barriers and protective equipment.

These specific control measures often include a range of PPE, including fall arrest systems and travel restraint devices. While these systems are perhaps the most well known of PPE for those working at heights, there are also a number of other important devices, clothing choices and equipment that should be considered.

Before adopting PPE to reduce hazards above the ground, workplace training teaches individuals and employees to first identify more simple methods of avoiding a fall from height. Generally, the most effective way to avoid fall related injuries and accidents is to avoid working at heights altogether.

Unfortunately, this is not always a possibility. Some industries and occupations require employees to regularly work above the ground, which creates a need for employers to provide comprehensive PPE systems.

Without the correct training measures in place, untrained and unsupervised individuals can still face a significant risk of falling from height even when given access to a range of PPE. This is because an inadequately fitted harness, or incorrectly set up travel restraint system, could fail when the full weight of a worker pulls on the equipment.

It is therefore crucial that any individual who is required to work above ground is offered adequate training on how to set up and use their personal fall arrest systems. This includes ensuring workers measure the correct length of rope, attach all necessary safety lines and choose the most suitable place to secure the system.

Traffic management

Vehicles are one of the leading causes of workplace injuries and deaths, according to Safe Work Australia. Overall, almost half – 46 percent –of all work related fatalities are the result of being struck by or crashing a vehicle. A huge number of these incidents are avoidable and must be addressed in order to reduce Australia’s worryingly high road toll and workplace fatality statistics.

Maintaining a safe and effective traffic management plan is an important step forward in achieving this goal. These plans require a range of specific tools and PPE, however, to efficiently protect both employees and passers-by.

For example, any individual working on or near a road should wear a high visibility vest at all times. This ensures their presence is known even when weather or location could obscure vision.

In some cases, employers may wish to print the job title of the individual employee on the back of each vest, particularly for traffic control managers. This will also enable other workers to easily identify who they need to speak to in regards to the traffic plan, reducing confusion and minimising the risk of an uninformed employee making a mistake.

Another PPE requirement may include respirators when working in atmospheres with the risk of airborne contaminants. This could help protect those traffic management employees working in dusty areas or close to the pit of a coal mine, for example.

Further PPE requirements for those working on or close to the road include adequate clothing to protect from stray rock chips and other materials that could potentially be kicked up by passing vehicles. Employees should also consider their footwear when dressing for work, as closed, heavy shoes should be worn at all times.

Understanding the clothing requirements of traffic management is a vital step towards increasing safety. Additionally, training should cover the correct use of radios to ensure employees are able to communicate their intentions on the road.

One incident that showcases the importance of this training occurred at the Mt Arthur Coal mine in October last year. An employee miraculously escaped serious injury when he moved his light vehicle into the path of a reversing mining dozer.

The light vehicle driver had attempted to radio the dozer operator but received no reply as the dozer’s radio was temporarily switched to a different channel. Despite this, the driver decided that because he had previously spoken with the dozer operator about his intentions, he was safe to move his vehicle. Unfortunately, he was not.

This incident, and many others like it, clearly demonstrates the importance of ensuring all employees are adequately trained in the use, maintenance and integration of PPE in the workplace.

Conclusion

Perhaps the most important protection a worker can hold is the training required to know how to respond to workplace hazards. Knowledge enables an individual to identify and address the hazards they face, whether by altering their work methods or by using PPE and other safety devices.

Without the proper knowledge and training, even the most high tech and comprehensive PPE can become useless. A fall arrest system that has been incorrectly installed may fail; a breathing apparatus that is inadequately maintained may stop working; and a road management sign that has been inaccurately placed could be missed by drivers.

Fortunately, all of these issues can be addressed with comprehensive workplace training from registered and accredited training providers. It is the responsibility of managers and employers to ensure that all employees are provided with the appropriate training and information necessary for them to utilise and care for their PPE.

Published: 30th May 2014 in OSA Magazine

Author


Brendan Torazzi


Brendan Torazzi is the Chief Executive Officer of AlertForce Australia, a company dedicated to providing world class workplace health and safety training in a number of specialised sectors.

In 2013 he completed a Masters of Business and Technology distinction programme at the University of New South Wales. Mr Torazzi holds a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment that supplements his many years of experience as an OHS trainer.
As CEO of AlertForce, Mr Torazzi holds in depth knowledge in many OHS training categories, as well as expert knowledge of fatigue management, having worked extensively with road transport and mining industries.

AlertForce is a specialised organisation offering compliance training to individuals and businesses across Australia. With more than 20 years’ combined experience, the AlertForce team are the leaders in Occupational Health and Safety training both online and in person.

The award winning courses available through AlertForce include expert, flexible and competitive OHS training in the fields of Working at Heights, Confined Space, Traffic Management and Asbestos Removal, among others.


Brendan Torazzi

Website:
http://www.alertforce.com.au

Phone:
+ 61 2 8323 7046


http://www.alertforce.com.au
+ 61 2 8323 7046

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