Hitting the nail on the head

Hitting the nail on the head

When it comes to selecting the correct head protection, a thorough risk assessment is advised. Head-related injuries can be life-threatening or could leave an employee with a lifelong neurological or physical disability.

Jarryd Swanepoel, inland sales and distribution manager at Uvex, says that once a thorough risk assessment is completed the employer will have a good idea of which standards are most applicable to safeguard against the risks identified. “Risks could include falling objects, collision into objects, high temperatures, molten metal, electrical shock and working at heights.

“The EN Standards can be used as a guideline to help marry the correct solution to the relevant application. Once consulted, the employee should also ensure that the product meets the relevant standards (SANS 1397:2003).”

These are some examples of applications and their respective appropriate standard/s:

  • Construction – EN 397: Industrial hard hat;
  • Work at height – EN 12492: Mountaineering helmets;
  • Logistics – EN 812: Bump caps;
  • Electrical work – EN 50365: Electrical insulation and EN 166: Arc rated visors; and
  • Steel grinding – EN 397: Industrial hard hats and EN 352-3: Clip in earmuff set, as well as EN 166: Impact resistant clip-in visors.

Swanepoel points out that it is also important to know the product’s limitations, since, although the EN 397 standard tests for shock absorption, for example, there is often a disparity between the force tested under the standard’s test methods versus the risks that are posed in reality.

“An employer should test the product for quality and insist on valid certification before approving that product as safe to use on his or her site,” he advises. “Like most industries, the hard hat industry has seen many new market entrants recently, both local manufacturers and importers. Some manufacturers are offering more specialised products in the premium space, but the low-cost/high-volume segment is seeing some pressure with low quality products.”

There is another issue plaguing the industry. “As in most developing countries, safety is not always at the forefront of procurement decisions and corporate agendas. Safety is a culture that needs to be instilled in everything we do. This has been improving in recent years thanks to sharing of the right information by some safety-enthusiastic manufacturers and new occupational health and safety professional associations.”

The right type of market entrants is also beneficial. “As the market becomes more competitive, we see new solutions made available to the end user as an attempt by manufacturers to capture market share,” Swanepoel tells SHEQ MANAGEMENT. “This benefits the average employee doing the hard labour. A small amount of research into the options can result in a product that is truly fit for purpose.”

Another factor to be considered is the ergonomic implications of any product. “Once all necessary protection factors have been checked, comfort, weight, heat-stress and other practical factors should be considered when narrowing down the shortlist to the most preferred option.

“Many manufacturers offer the same base model with different options – for example: short brim (for confined spaces), long brim (for sun protection), standard 30 mm euro slots for compatible cap lamps and other accessories. In some cases, an industrial hard hat may not be necessary and a bump cap could be a more appropriate and comfortable solution.”

Once the product is selected, accessories such as clip-in earmuffs and visors can further protect the wearer from other risks such as high noise levels, or sparks entering the eyes, in one modular complete solution.

“PPE should always be considered as the last line of defence, however,” Swanepoel says. “Serious risks should first be engineered out of the employees’ work process if possible.”

He adds that it is also important that the correct culture is cultivated. “If this can be done at grassroots and then driven by legislation and the regulators, safety could be at the forefront of all we do. This will benefit all stakeholders: industry, commerce, the PPE sector as a whole and all families in South Africa whose breadwinner is the person swinging the hammer. At the end of the day, it’s all about protecting people.”

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