Keeping health and safety at the top of the agenda

Photograph courtesy of CSS WorksafeWith the Coalition Government having announced its cut backs in October, it is little wonder that the public sector is taking a sharp inhalation of breath and is now bracing itself for further substantial budget cuts that will need to take place within its organisations. However, one area that it is advised that shouldn’t take the brunt of these cuts is health and safety – after all the health and lives of the workforce must be a key priority.

Nevertheless, the world of health and safety can be a bewildering area with a plethora of regulations and responsibilities to consider. Hence the remit of the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) is to offer advice and guidance to organisations and individuals regarding the correct choice, implementation and use of safety equipment.

Shaping industry

Formed in 1994, the BSIF is the leading trade body within the safety industry and a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recognised competent authority. By working with key authorities in the health and safety industry, the BSIF is able to help shape and influence practices in this sector. The BSIF boasts over 160 members including manufacturers, distributors, test houses, certification bodies, safety professionals and service providers, all of whom are striving to make the workplace safer.

The Federation aims to represent and support suppliers of safety products and services across all aspects of safety legislation and standards, as well as other major occupational safety issues; the Federation also has active links with a number of government departments and more than 120 representative trade bodies.

David Lummis, chief executive officer of the BSIF comments: “We fully appreciate that the public sector has been put under a vast amount of strain through the budget pressures required by the coalition government. Operating on dwindling budgets can push workforces to both their physical and mental limits. However, in the resolve to stop spending money, it is important that health and safety in organisations doesn’t suffer. Besides the obvious danger to the workforce and their health in years to come, it can of course cause extra expense should an unfortunate and unnecessary workplace accident take place.”

Campaigning for a better environment

As well as supporting and representing its members, the BSIF is actively involved in a number of campaigns aimed at improving occupational safety. The Federation is working with the HSE and other leading safety organisations to raise awareness of specific issues among end users of safety products. The work being carried out in this area will be pivotal for local government as often workers in the public sector are significant end users of safety products.

In May 2009, as part of the BSIF established relationship with the HSE, a joint initiative was launched entitled ‘Clean Air? Take Care!’. This respiratory campaign aims to help reduce occupational respiratory disease by raising awareness of the issues that surround it. Employees have a right to be aware of the potential dangers that they face in their workplace and to be given the opportunity to protect themselves adequately; employers have a legal obligation to ensure that their workforce is protected.

The ‘Clean Air? Take Care!’ campaign is helping to increase awareness, highlight the problems and promote sensible solutions for respiratory protection in the workplace. Through a range of national activities and educational seminars, respiratory protective equipment (RPE) users, employers, fit testers and advisors have been targeted with simple information on the correct selection, deployment, use, maintenance and storage of RPE.

Fitting RPE properly
This campaign is run beside the Fit2Fit RPE Fit Test Providers Accreditation Scheme, which highlights the need for RPE to be fitted properly after it emerged that many workers RPE does not offer the correct level of protection. Where RPE is deployed, the issue is not necessarily with the quality of the equipment, but with the fact that it is not being used or fitted properly. There is not just a moral obligation to correctly protect employees, there are legal implications. UK safety and health regulations stipulate that RPE must be correctly selected and those using the equipment should receive adequate training. Where a face seal is necessary, an appropriate fit test must be conducted by a competent person – and this is one area where complications may arise.

Up until now, fit testers of RPE have not been accredited, making the selection of a competent person a matter of luck and guess work. There may be a lack of knowledge, skills, experience and understanding of fit testing, or these may have deteriorated over time. Either way, the wearer of the equipment will be risking potential respiratory health problems if the RPE is ill fitting.

To tackle this issue, the BSIF has developed a competency scheme in collaboration with the HSE and other industry stakeholders – the BSIF Fit2Fit Fit Test Providers Accreditation Scheme. By substantially increasing the correct fitting of RPE, the aim is to significantly reduce the incidence of occupational respiratory injury.

This scheme is designed to confirm the competency of any person performing face piece fit testing by passing an industry recognised exam, followed by a practical assessment of their competence when actually testing the fit of RPE. In this way they can demonstrate that they have a thorough knowledge of the HSE guidance on fit testing and that they know how to fit test in practical circumstances.

David Lummis, explains the importance of the scheme: “By creating a nationally recognised accreditation scheme with ‘professional’ standing, employers who select appropriate, accredited Fit2Fit personnel to fit test their employees with respiratory protection will mitigate liability in the event of an incident; HSE inspectors and RPE users can be provided with evidence of competence; and it should generate business for ‘commercial’ fit testers who complete the scheme and prove their competence. Ultimately and most importantly it will play a significant part in reducing respiratory disease in the workplace.”

Registered Safety Supplier Scheme
Moving on from this campaign, the BSIF noticed that in this current environment there seems to be general confusion over certified products mainly due to counterfeit items, falsified certification and the potentially confusing CE symbol that stands for ‘China Export’. The Federation wanted to make sure that there were measures at hand to ensure employers are buying and supplying the correct equipment.

Therefore, in 2009 as part of the BSIF’s Counterfeit and Illegal Products campaign, the BSIF launched the Registered Safety Supplier Scheme (RSSS) which offers a simple signpost for end users to be sure that the safety equipment their supplier offers is fully approved and certified. Displaying the RSSS Shield guarantees that the company has been audited to confirm their conformance to the strict requirements of the scheme and ensures the safety products are genuine and legal. This declaration is, as a condition of the scheme, audited through special provisions set out within the company’s ISO9001 Certification. Under the RSSS this independent audit is one of the key requirements to independently verify conformance and is a key part of the robustness of the scheme.

David Lummis comments: “With the huge amount of safety products available it is little wonder that people fall foul of counterfeit and illegal products as they can be hard to detect to the untrained eye. Therefore, it is hoped by introducing the RSSS to the marketplace that it will help guide buyers to ensure that their products are legitimate and safe, all they have to do is look for the RSSS shield. Whilst it may be an uphill struggle to eliminate counterfeit and illegal products, this is a step in the right direction and will provide welcome peace of mind for many.”

Avoiding the drop

One area of concern for the BSIF is working at height as according to statistics provided by HSE1, falls from height remain one of the most common causes of workplace fatality. In 2009/10 there were 22 fatalities, 4,200 major injuries and a further 6,277 injuries that caused the injured person to be off work for over 3 days or more, due to a fall from height. The BSIF is committed to raising awareness of height safety therefore saving lives of people who, by the nature of their work, are put at risk.

David Lummis, explains: “The BSIF would like to see the incidents of injuries caused by working at height significantly reduced. Many lives are lost due to negligence, often due to ignorance and a lack of training. It is these areas we need to address and ensure everyone working at height can access important safety advice.”

A number of challenges facing the safety industry have been, or are being resolved, including the introduction of legislative and guidance documents. For example, the HSE provide comprehensive guidance on the topic and the BSIF Working at Height Safety Association has produced a variety of leaflets. However, there are still several areas that need to be addressed in relation to working at height in order to ensure the safety of workers. These include the range and complexity of available safety equipment (which potentially causes confusion in the selection and deployment of suitable equipment), safety equipment misuse, no means to test the competency of an individual and perhaps most importantly, the lack of a single recognised training or accreditation for people working at height.

The BSIF echoes the concerns of its members about these issues and would like to see more realistic safety equipment testing so EN standards can be easily related to real life situations, along with a nationally accepted accreditation scheme for those working at height.

The BSIF is the lead trade body for the PPE Directive and committed to ensuring occupational safety and health remain firmly at the top of the agenda in any working environment. Acting as a valuable information source funded directly by the industry, the BSIF provides direction in health and safety matters, including RPE and working at height, to both its members and non-members.

About the BSIF
Formed in 1994, the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) is the leading trade body within the safety industry and an HSE-recognised competent authority. Its members include manufacturers, distributors, test houses, certification bodies, safety professionals and service providers.

The Federation aims to support and represent suppliers of safety products and services across all aspects of safety legislation, standards making and major occupational safety issues, and has active links with a number of government departments and more than 120 representative trade bodies.

1. HSE statistics -

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Photograph courtesy of CSS Worksafe

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