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Safe working can have benefits for all

12 April 2016

Companies that view health and safety legislation as a burden not only run the risk of failing to comply, they may also miss out on the benefits.

It is often a fascinating exercise to compare working practices of today with those of previous decades, emphasising how attitudes towards health and safety have changed.

Accidents continue to occur, but studies show that incidences of death and serious injury can be seen to have reduced in the majority of sectors. This can bring further benefits if the culture of health and safety is embraced by each member of the business.

Well-ordered and clean working environment allow staff members to work more efficiently, providing benefits for all concerned. This can also reduce instances of illness and lead to falling absentee levels.

Further proof can be seen in the recent World Health Organisation report, Preventing disease through healthy environments (see Industry bodies continue to drive the argument for more effective legislation. One example of this is the new guidance published by the Specialist Access Engineering & Maintenance Association (SAEMA), covering the management, control and safe use of temporary suspended access equipment (TSAE).

These platforms are used extensively to provide practical and safe access for the cleaning and maintenance of buildings and other structures. Available as a free download on the SAEMA website, the new guidance covers topics ranging from rigging platforms and pre-use checks, to the responsibilities of the user appointed person (UAP) and how to manage breakdowns and emergencies, additionally highlighting relevant regulations and standards appertaining to the use of façade access systems.

Association secretary Trevor Fennell, says: “It’s essential that these projects are carried out correctly in accordance with all the latest directives and safety criteria. To keep operatives safe, this publication seeks to ensure that these are fully understood and complied with.”

Other guidance documents available from the association’s website address the issues of lone working, anchorage points for rope access, emergency cradle rescue planning and system loadings. There is also guidance on the safe use of permanent façade access equipment and systems. SAEMA states it will be exhibiting at this year’s Safety & Health Expo, 21-23 June, and will be a major contributor to the Access Industry Forum’s first national conference on work at height Implementing change and innovation at Holywell Park Conference Centre, Loughborough, on 13 October.

Additional activity within this area includes the European Association for Passive Fire Protection’s (EAPFP) call for a single test method for façade test and classification systems within the EU. It says the recent Address Downtown Dubai hotel fire and others in tall buildings have highlighted that façades present a fire risk, so a better understanding of their behaviour in fire is vital.

There is now general agreement that conventional small scale reaction to fire tests and larger scale fire resistance tests are unsuitable for modelling the behaviour of façade fires. Since a number of fire resistance tests have been developed, the EC is currently evaluating the options for developing a method for the fire assessment of façades that would meet the needs and requirements of all EU member states.

Current EC proposals present two options: to use the already developed test method defined in BS 8414-1: Fire performance of external cladding systems (complemented by Sweden’s SP Fire 105) as the European large scale assessment method for façades; and to keep the existing draft German DIN 4102-20 method as the small scale assessment model for Europe.

A further option is to develop European large scale and intermediate scale assessment methods, as proposed by the European Organisation for Technical Assessment (EOTA). The EAPFP believes the best solution is a method that meets the requirements for both large and small scale testing of all the product classes, as well as the regulatory needs in member states.

It also recommends that the classification of the fire performance of all types of building façades is addressed at the same time as decisions are made about the test method. The EAPFP is calling for a number of principles to be established in the development process.

Vice president Miroslav Smolka says: “Thresholds, levels, and classes that currently apply in member states are strongly tied to national fire safety and building codes. The competence and responsibility of member states have to be fully respected so that the established and/or required level of safety in case of fire is improved or at least maintained.

“The EAPFP believes that the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) is the only body that is truly competent to be given the task to develop a test method that would meet the needs and requirements of all EU member states.

“There are a number of test methods used in member states, as well as international ISO standards, but the EAPFP believes there is enough background information to enable a new test to be developed by CEN within a standard time frame.”

EAPFP asks that its views are taken into consideration during upcoming discussions in the EC Standing Committee for Construction Advisory Group. HSS Hire Group national HSEQ manager Phil Hemsworth says that safety is one of his company’s four core values and a promise to colleagues and customers that it is central to everything it does, while constantly striving to improve.

“In the tool and equipment hire industry there are jobs and tasks being performed every day that carry an element of risk or require a constant awareness of hazards. From driving during busy periods to lifting heavy machinery, we know that if health and safety isn’t our number one priority then injuries and accidents can happen,” he says.

The group has committed to providing all colleagues with a safe working environment and the tools to perform their everyday roles as safely as possible. “In return, we trust and expect our colleagues to always prioritise their safety and that of others. When this trust is breached, we deal with the problem quickly and with great severity,” Mr Hemsworth coninues.

He explains his company is launching a new internal campaign, backed by CEO John Gill, to ensure safety back is a high priority for all colleagues for the business to have the best safety record in the industry.

“This is because as a group we want to know that we are doing everything we can to ensure that our colleagues and our customers get home safely each night,” he says. The message to all colleagues is that “nothing should be more important than the safety of yourself, your colleagues, and your customers. There’s never an excuse not to work safely.”

Mr Hemsworth says he will be travelling around the business looking for good safety practices this year, while encouraging colleagues to highlight any unsafe working practice and take responsibility for correcting it, while using the company’s dedicated training division to help ensure colleagues and customers are trained on the latest health and safety practices.

Deb marketing director Paul Jakeway highlights the issue of occupational skin conditions, prominent in every working environment but often overlooked and range from skin irritation to occupational dermatitis. Facilities managers can help to eradicate the risk of serious skin condition development by encouraging proactive skin care at work, including regular talks and providing educational materials to show the importance of skin care.

“Alongside the education comes the provision of the products that enable proactivity,” says Mr Jakeway. “Protective creams, appropriate hand cleansers, sanitisers and after-work creams should be present throughout a workplace – be it through properly positioned dispensers or in the form of personal issue packs to staff.

“For employees, developing an occupational skin condition could have serious ramifications in their professional and personal lives. By prioritising a regular programme of skin care education and best-practice, employers can protect both their staff and their business,” he concludes.

Health & safety – sanitised, not insane
Regarding the expansion of health and safety scope, Nviro commercial and safety manager of cleaning and FM services Ashley White says this is regarded as infuriating by the “health and safety gone mad” brigade.

“The reality is that much of this perception is down to myth and mischief-making in the media,” says Mr White. Health and safety regulations save life and limb in factories and on construction sites, while the focus has widened to occupational health, welfare and the wellbeing of the workforce, he continues.

“But for the premises or facilities manager, it is as much about satisfying expectations as regulations. Employees and customers expect a building to be serviced to a high standard, and that includes cleanliness.”

With millions of pounds lost each year due to high levels of sickness absence, senior management recognise that hygiene can have an impact on the bottom line of an organisation. “Our clients in a variety of sectors are paying more attention to wellbeing and managing the risk of infectious outbreaks among employees or customers. So interest is growing in enhanced cleaning and sanitisation to protect and promote health and hygiene,” says Mr White.

Deep cleaning should already form part of a responsible regime. The term covers a range of cleaning techniques and technologies which have seen advances in recent years. Hand-sanitisers are increasingly common in washrooms and communal areas as a pre-emptive measure, with toilets and washrooms often serving as a visual indicator of a building’s standards of cleanliness.

The combination of touch points, bio-waste and users who may be ill increases the risk of transmission. “A hygienic cleaning service should also combat airborne contamination as well as sanitising surfaces. Wall-mounted sanitisation units can decontaminate the atmosphere by drawing in air, which is decontaminated by UV light and ozone, before it is re-circulated,” Mr White advises.

Steam cleaning is another effective sanitisation treatment capable of removing chemical use, requiring a small amount of cold tap water to create a superheated ‘dry’ steam that dissolves grease and grime, while sanitising surfaces, soft furnishings or mattresses. Fogging, also known as chemical, wet or bio-fogging, can be used, creating a fine mist with biocide.

“These particles are so small they remain suspended in the air long enough to kill airborne viruses and microorganisms in the space treated. The chemical also eliminates pathogens on ceilings and walls, furniture and floors that are difficult to clean with other techniques.”

Previously, the chemicals used in fogging could adversely affect people and certain materials, and areas would be sealed off for days at a time, but today’s process is rapid, safe and efficient, says Mr White. To avoid disruption and risk of allergic reactions, areas need to be clear of people and completed outside of working or opening hours.

“We favour a water-based anti-microbial that is non-hazardous, odourless, and harmless to the environment. This solution contains four different biocides so that a bacterium with resistance to one agent will be eliminated by the others. It is effective against a wide range of microbes, including E. coli, MRSA, C. difficile, listeria, salmonella and Legionella pneumophilia.

“The evidence from our monitoring is that the impact of fogging is immediate and long-lasting,” says Mr White. Every cleaning regime should be monitored and sanitisation performance should be measured scientifically by testing for microbes using a hand-held monitor that measures ATP (adenosine triphosphate), found in and around living cells.

“It’s used as a direct measure of biological concentrations and health. A luminometer gives us a reliable indication of ATP levels,” says Mr White. “Normal practice is to test for ATP before and after fogging. We have carried out multiple trials which have shown a very dramatic decline in ATP counts,” he continues

Repeat tests indicate that the biocide continues to act as an effective bactericide and virucide. Chemical suppliers claim the residual efficacy of a fogging agent can extend into months and longer. One example includes pupils in a community school struck down with the Norovirus, provoking an extensive fogging programme.

ATP testing showed that the treatment had been effective and subsequent tests indicated that counts remained very low.

Fogging and other sanitisation measures should at least feature in organisations’ contingency planning for the winter season and other times of heightened risk, such as a swine flu outbreak. They are recommended as part of a full decontamination clean after an infectious outbreak.

“But given the benefits of sanitisation – and the heavy cost of these events to organisations and people in lost output, disruption, welfare and reputational damage – we recommend having areas fogged twice a year,” says Mr White.

An advantage for facilities managers who take hygienic cleaning seriously is sharing hard data showing the results of sanitisation with senior colleagues – in H&S, HR and finance – to justify their cleaning spend.

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