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How safe are your workers? Five steps to take when choosing safe PPE

A standard certifier is urging employers and site managers to evaluate the effectiveness of their personal protection equipment.

It comes after revelations that some Australian suppliers are offer PPE that fails to meet Australian safety standards.

Despite operators assuming that their equipment on site such as safety helmets, fall arrestors, gloves, boots, masks and hearing protectors are up to standards, SAI Global said that this, unfortunately, 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 for safety equipment, some manufacturers and suppliers may not comply with them,and others are ignorant of them, particularly when a product is made overseas.

“It’s a common misconception that all personal safety items are subject to and must meet mandatory standards,” Donarski said. 

“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.”

He went on to say that protective equipment that has not been independently certified may be exposing employees and others to significant illness or injury in the workplace. 

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

“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,” he said.

“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.”  

Donarski stated their are five things to keep in mind when 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’ Standards Mark.
  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,” Donarski said.
  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 producton 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. Donarski recommends evaluating equipment prior to every job rather than per calendar month.

By using these five tips you should be able to keep your workers a little safer on site.

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