Safety Managers in the petrochemical industry have an incredibly important role in ensuring their workforce is protected from chemical and other hazards. They are under pressure to both interpret the EN standards correctly and determine the protection requirements for each task that different workers are carrying out.
Given the increasing rate at which existing standards are changed or replaced, and their complex nuances, simply keeping up to date with the standards can be a major challenge.
Failure to provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) not only exposes workers to harmful substances, but also exposes the business to legal action, either immediately after an incident, or in the future as the long-term effects of hazards emerge.
In this blog, we’ll outline the biggest challenges facing safety management teams in the petrochemical industry, as well as how they can be overcome.
- Challenge #1: Balancing employee safety with cost
When it comes to PPE selection, finding the right balance between comfort, protection and cost is a major challenge for safety management teams.
Senior management and workers often have different motivations. Senior management want to reduce costs and increase productivity, whilst workers want PPE that will keep them protected and is comfortable to wear.
It can, therefore, be easy for safety managers to assume that lower-priced PPE is the solution. But while lower-priced PPE will leave less of a dent in the business’ wallet, it may not be comfortable to wear, flexible or protect employees from the range of hazards to which they are exposed.
In harsh and hazardous environments, particularly those where conflicting hazards are present, safety managers must prioritise protection first and then comfort. Cost should not be the main determinant of PPE selection.
EN standards have led to a temptation to assume that a CE certified product provides the protection required in any specific application, and therefore to select the cheapest PPE that meets the appropriate standard. CE certification, however, simply means that a product meets minimum performance standards and does not guarantee safety in an application.
Safety managers should instead choose PPE on the basis of:
1) Does the selected PPE meet the protective requirements of the application? (as well as being certified to the relevant standard)
2) Does the selected PPE provide the dexterity and sensitivity that workers need to carry out activities?
3) Is it comfortable enough for employees to wear without removing?
a. If not, what can be done to improve employee comfort without compromising the protective garment?
Selecting more expensive PPE or, rather, PPE that meets the needs and requirements of both the workers and the application, will help safety management to minimise long-term costs (as there will be fewer health and safety incidents) and maximise productivity (as workers will be more comfortable and able to work for longer).
- Challenge #2: Interpreting the Safety Standards
The CE marking is the manufacturer’s declaration that the product is compliant with the relevant EU safety requirements. Any CE certified PPE meets a relevant EN minimum performance standard and will protect workers undertaking the designated task or operation.
But does it meet the standard?
The fundamental issue here is that EN standards define minimum performance requirements but often involve a number of different tests to define specific performance properties of the PPE. Different PPE can meet the same standard, but can perform very differently in the tests within that standard, indicating various levels of performance.
Take, for example, the EN 11612 standard for protection against heat and flames, to which FR workwear is certified. As well as tests to ensure minimum performance in contact with heat and flame (for example, to ensure shrinkage is minimised at high temperatures), it includes five different tests (although only one is compulsory), indicating resistance against transfer of different heat energy types, including radiant, contact and convective heat, as well as tests against molten splashes of aluminium and iron. Garments are classified depending on performance in these tests; usually Class 1 (lowest) to Class 3 (Highest).
Therefore users should consider not only whether proposed FR workwear is certified to the EN 11612 standard, but also to consider the demands of the application:
• What type of heat hazard is present… radiant heat? Contact heat? Splashes of molten metal?
• What level of performance does it require?
Once this has been evaluated, select FR workwear that features the appropriate performance class in the relevant heat transfer test.
This of course demands that Safety Managers are not only aware of the FR workwear standard, but also have an understanding of the hazard (types of heat energy, what causes burns and types of burns etc) as well as what is within the standard and what it tells them about garment performance.
Safety managers need to look beyond whether PPE meets a specific standard and whether or not it’s suitable for a specific application. To choose the right PPE, safety managers must conduct a risk assessment specific to the environment and application requirements.
- Challenge #3: Increasing and maintaining employee engagement
To increase and maintain employee engagement, specifically where PPE and worker comfort is concerned, safety management teams need to speak directly to the workforce.
First and foremost, safety management teams should gather workers together to conduct comprehensive risk assessments, asking workers if they are satisfied with their current PPE, what could be improved, if it’s comfortable and so on. These questions will help safety management teams to make the right PPE decisions and improve worker engagement.
PPE manufacturers can also play a useful part in this process. More professional and specialist manufacturers will have local representatives who have a deeper knowledge of the PPE and related standards along with an understanding of the wider range of PPE available that might contribute to not only ensuring protection is provided but in maximising comfort and wear ability for the workforce. Involvement of such manufacturers’ representatives in consultations with workers can be a useful exercise.
Safety managers should also let workers test PPE as early as possible before it’s rolled out to the entire workforce to help them and their workers to understand just how effective (or ineffective) it is and acquire the right solutions on that basis.
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