Prevention is better than a cure – in the work place

Despite all of the media attention on the importance of practicing workplace health and safety on a daily basis, it seems there are still many employees who remain unaware of the dangers associated with workplace hazards. This lack of awareness can include not using appropriately rated safety equipment for a specific job, or using a PPE product that is not fitted correctly. It seems it is the responsibility of management to educate and monitor employees and ensure healthy work practices are implemented every day.

Global safety bodies, such as the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA), are bodies that police the use of PPE products throughout the industry. The ISEA recently reported that there is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ within the Personal Protective Equipment category, with women particularly at risk when it comes to ill-fitting products. 

According to the ISEA, employers and manufacturers are to blame, as well as manufacturers who often only offer only limited products when catering to female workers and often do not ensure a range of sizes are available. 

“It is vital that employers remain accountable when it comes to ordering the correct PPE because it is vital in saving lives and preventing injury,” an ISEA spokesperson said recently. 

Product innovation improves work safety

Blundstone is one such company that continues to explore product innovation to not only improve safety for workers but also increase comfort. Blundstone’s Head of Brand, Design and Consumer Engagement, Adam Blake, said it is for this reason that Blundstone has increased its focus and investment in the design phase of all of its products.

“At Blundstone we are engaging end users, wearers, and business representatives, to gain advancements in both Workplace Health and Safety and contract perspectives. This gives us a much more detailed understanding into the actual environment and duty requirements of different professions and end users, as well as understanding the features that really matter to workers,” Mr Blake said.

“Our new products are trialled with wearers in real work environments in the development phase. This testing ensures we know our safety boots are truly ‘fit for purpose’, before moving into production. We have found that products designed with end user input are more readily adopted in practice,” he said.

Just some of the new design led products recently released by Blundstone include its new women’s jogger range, which comprises of the #884, #885, #886 and also the #892, #897 industrial work boots.

“Boasting a natural fit for hard work, these styles have been designed and created specifically for women to withstand the toughest of environments. These products had extensive user research before being released into the market, as well as technical improvements that were adjusted from wear tests in the development cycle – we always make it a priority to focus on the wearer right from the start,” Mr Blake said.

“We have steered away from simply ‘shrinking and pinking’ our men’s range, and instead invested in designing a bespoke range suited to women in a range of industries – from light manufacturing, right up to heavy industrial roles,” he said. 

Mr Blake said female consumers were very quick to embrace its specialised products that cater specifically for women’s fit and comfort requirements.

Designed for the hardware market, the #242 is another new product released this year packed with safety and comfort features, including water-resistant leather, lightweight TPU sole and a convenient zip side.

With current trends leaning towards lighter weight products as well as breathable materials with enhanced comfort and durability, Blundstone is currently working with supply partners on future products that will deliver this and more – and in different industry contexts. 

“In our new product development projects, we are undertaking extensive research and studies to see how we can deliver light weight and stylish products, whilst addressing real work health and safety risks. The market has certainly become more competitive which is why reliability and quality are more than ever the keys to success. Safety boots are more than just foot protection, they are a tool for working and must reduce trips, falls and fatigue – ultimately this is what leads to greater working productivity,” he said.

Blundstone continues to stand out from its competitors, having traded in the workwear industry for nearly 150 years, “which is why we know a thing or two about making high quality, durable and innovative footwear. And why these days we are also one of the only Australian work and safety brands that is successful in growing in both work and safety and lifestyle markets around the world,” Mr Blake said.

“Blundstone was the first footwear manufacturer to win an Australian Design Award in the 1980s and has since gone on to win two more awards – this is testimony to the time and detail we invest in the design and development phase,” he said.

In saying this, the workwear and PPE market does remain extremely competitive, with safety footwear a market segment that is expanding at a very fast rate. With competitors from non-work industries, as well as overseas markets, this means the consumer is also faced with a huge range of price points and standards conformity, without necessarily knowing what is right for them, according to Mr Blake.

“We are in a new era where aesthetics and fashion do matter to wearers of safety footwear. The challenge is not just functional performance but design aesthetic and performance. This is also why we are continually expanding our design efforts and taking learnings from our global lifestyle brand presence,” he said.

While the current standards do allow for flexibility, Mr Blake has found that locally designed products, such as Blundstone’s footwear, meet local conditions better in terms of fit, weather resistance and the handling the unique Australian terrain. 

“This is because insights and innovation are dictated from the very beginning of the design process. Boots are a fundamental  PPE item and it is an advantage to understand your users,” he concluded.

The rise of silicosis

One significant work place hazard that has unfortunately demonstrated a steep incline in incidents in recent years, is the rise of silicosis, a fatal lung disease developed from inhaling crystalline silica dust particles, commonly found in construction, civil engineering and stone masonry. This includes the construction of stone benchtops which involves cutting, grinding, sawing or polishing of a natural stone. 

If inhaled regularly, the dust can cause silicosis, where scarring on the lungs leads to breathing difficulties. Silicosis also increases the likelihood of other diseases such as bronchitis, tuberculosis, kidney disease and lung cancer, which are all entirely preventable.

Powered air respirators provide vital protection from inhaling harmful chemicals, according to Safe Work Australia, along with the use of protective clothing and eye protection. 

Wetting of silica dust, using appropriate exhaust ventilation, such as on-tool dust extraction and extraction hoods, and wearing the right dust masks and air filters may reduce the chances of a worker breathing in silica dust at work.

There are also current workplace standards in place on exposure to silica dust, while workplace screening for lung disease is mandatory for those at significant risk, which may include a physical examination as well as X-rays and lung function tests.

Other common airborne hazards in the industry include welding fumes, which are often a mixture of hazardous particles, gases and metal oxides. The fumes are a by-product of welding, and the particles depend on the type of welding used, whether it be heat or heat and pressure. Immediate problems with exposure include facial irritation, nausea and dizziness, while long-term illness is much more serious and includes cancer, kidney damage, stomach ulcers and neurological diseases.

Exposure to asbestos fibres is another preventable workplace hazard. Asbestos is a natural mineral that was formally used extensively in the construction industry due to its fire and heat-resistant qualities. Today, asbestos removal is a specialised occupation. The danger of being exposed to this product comes when the material is disturbed or damaged. As the fibre particles become airborne, they lead to fatal health problems if inhaled, often causing many respiratory diseases including mesothelioma, a cancer of the lungs and digestive tract; asbestosis, scaring of the lung over time leading to increased shortness of breath and pleural thickening which occurs after severe exposure to asbestos.

When choosing the correct respiratory protection device for the job, employers and employees need to remember that all respiratory protection devices should comply with AS/NZS 1715:2009 for their selected use and maintenance, as well as AS/NZS 1716. In the above examples, ordinary dust masks do not prevent particles from being inhaled and are insufficient to meet the required government standards. 

As a well-known supplier of trusted respiratory protection, Maxisafe offers a range of powered air purifying respirators (PAPR) for hazardous industrial working conditions. Boasting innovative designs, Maxisafe products are specifically designed to not only protect the worker, but also fit comfortably and ensure that working ability is not restricted. 

“Features of various models include a pivot flip-up mechanism in the welding helmet and adjustable airflow as well as alarms for low air and battery life in its face shield masks. Most products weigh between 385 grams to 775 grams,” a Maxisafe spokesperson said recently.

For more information on Maxisafe’s PAPRs visit: www.maxisafe.com.au/contact-us