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Personal Protective Equipment

The good, the bad and the ‘sometimes’ ill-fitting in UK foundries

For PPE to be an effective control measure it has to be suitable for the job and hazard, fit the wearer, be used correctly and, if applicable, maintained in a good condition. How often have we heard that? We know it to be the case but how many foundries are actually on top of this? Does providing PPE mean that a foundry is meeting its health and safety obligations or its commitment to employee wellbeing? It certainly doesn’t – there is a greater obligation, an aspect that was considered as part of the recent Health and Safety Executive’s ‘Exposure to substances hazardous to health in foundries’ report, referred to by industry as the Long Latency Report.

Specifically undertaken by the HSE as a commitment to tackling the causes of occupational lung disease, the report touches on a number of issues to help the HSE and the wider industry to understand the current exposures to hazardous substances in foundries in the UK.

In the coming months, in partnership with the Cast Metals Federation and SHIFT Initiative, Foundry Trade Journal will highlight some of the key findings of the report, starting in this issue with the report’s discoveries about personal protective equipment (PPE).

In preparing the report the HSE visited several foundries in the UK, that use a variety of processes. A total of fourteen foundries voluntarily took part in a bid to help improve control practices and to work towards establishing benchmark standards. This involved opening their doors to HSE inspectors to allow them to measure worker exposure levels to key hazardous substances. The duration of the HSE visits were two and a half days per foundry.

Occupational hygiene surveys were carried out at each foundry, which included an assessment of exposure controls, management controls and exposure monitoring for substances hazardous to health. The latter consisted of air sampling and biological monitoring (BM) of substances to which foundry workers were exposed which included inhalable and respirable dusts, inhalable and respirable ferrous foundry particulate (FFP), RCS, a range of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and toxic metals.

The following is an insight into how PPE is undertaken in those sampled foundries that took part in the research.  

PPE that’s suitable for the job

Whilst some tasks were clearly recognised as needing a high level of PPE, for example fettling and manual shotblasting (due to the potential for significant exposures to RCS) and furnace work (due to the potential for molten metal burns and splashes), the potential for exposure to hazardous substances was not as well recognised for some other tasks such as mould making and there were occasions where unsuitable PPE was worn.

 

The following are examples of adequate PPE selection:

  • Molten metal protective clothing, worn at the majority of foundries when carrying out furnace work.
  • Flame retardant / heat resistant clothing, worn at most foundries for most tasks.
  • Compressed air-fed RPE for shotblasting, worn at two foundries. These offer an assigned protection factor (APF) of 40 and 1000 (HSE Guidance HSG53 ‘Respiratory protective equipment at work a practical guide’(1)).
  • Powered RPE helmet / hood type systems for fettling / cutting / burning, worn at seven foundries and also at one foundry for shotblasting. These have APFs of between 10 and 40(1) depending on filters used (though the latter would be the preferred protection factor). This type of RPE can be comfortably worn for the majority of a worker’s shift.

 

The following are examples of highlighted inadequate PPE:

  • Fabric gloves for mould / core making / knockout; these gloves would offer little protection against the chemicals in the binder systems, some of which were known skin sensitisers.
  • Powdered latex gloves; natural rubber latex proteins have the potential to cause asthma(2).
  • No molten metal protective clothing available for casting (one foundry), or available but not worn (one foundry).
  • Workers’ own clothes were worn at some foundries; this is considered bad practice as these workers will then spread contamination beyond the work area and potentially off site into their own homes and / or public areas.
  • RPE offering protection against particulate only with no protection against organic vapours when carrying out NDT.
  • Incorrect gloves used when handling dye penetrant for NDT.

 

Effectiveness of PPE

PPE is only effective if it is used, stored and maintained properly and if appropriate training is given to the wearer. Poor or no training can lead to incorrect use and storage, and consequently potential exposure to any contaminants. Poor maintenance may lead to faults and defects that can also lead to worker exposure. Chemical protective gloves and tight-fitting RPE need to fit the wearer. For the latter, face-fit testing should be carried out.

 

Use, storage and face-fit testing

The report concluded that most workers at the fourteen foundries visited used their PPE correctly, though there were some instances where this was not the case. There were also occasions where workers did not wear the PPE issued to them. Examples were:

  • Handling sand / binder mixture with bare hands. This would lead to dermal exposure to binder chemicals, some of which are known skin sensitisers.
  • Gloves and coveralls not worn (when available) during casting, a task which has the potential for serious burns.
  • RPE worn below the nose, covering the mouth only, which would not prevent inhalation exposure.
  • Tight-fitting RPE worn with stubble, which affects the seal between mask and face. Research has found that RPE protection could be significantly reduced where stubble is present, generally worsening as facial hair grows(3). Most workers had lockers in which to store PPE at the end of their shift for re-use the next day. RPE and gloves were put on and taken off numerous times throughout the shift and there were occasions where both were stored on workbenches when not worn. This can lead to contamination on the inner surfaces. On more than one occasion RPE masks were observed to be dirty on the inside. The COSHH ACoP(4) in relation to Regulation 7 ‘Prevention or control of exposure to substances hazardous to health’, states that tight-fitting RPE (disposable and re-useable) should be face-fit tested, using a suitable method and by a competent person. Most foundries supplied both tight-fitting masks and loose-fitting powered RPE hood type systems; which when used, was task-dependent. Loose-fitting RPE does not need face-fit testing. Of the foundries visited:
  • Four carried out face-fit testing for all applicable masks.
  • One foundry carried out face-fit testing on half masks, but not disposable masks.
  • Eight foundries did not carry out face-fit testing.
  • One foundry had carried out a program of face-fit testing, but some workers had refused to take part.

 

RPE maintenance regimes

It is a requirement of Regulation 9 ‘Maintenance, examination and testing of control measures’ of the COSHH Regulations 2002 (as amended) that re-usable RPE undergoes “thorough examination and, where appropriate, testing” at “suitable intervals”. It is also a requirement that PPE is: (a) “properly stored in a well-defined place; (b) checked at suitable intervals; and (c) when discovered to be defective, repaired or replaced before further use.”

Disposable RPE does not need to be maintained, examined and tested; however re-usable RPE (including half masks, powered and air fed systems) does. HSE guidance, HSG 53, paragraph 90 states that: “Thorough examination and tests should be carried out at least once a month. However, if the RPE is used only occasionally, an examination and test should be carried out before use, and in any event the interval should not exceed three months.”

Of those foundries that used re-usable RPE (eleven), six carried out and recorded their checks. These ranged from monthly (four) to annually (two), though one of the latter carried out annual maintenance on one type of RPE but had no procedures for other re-usable types. The remaining five foundries had no formal maintenance, examination and test in place. Three foundries used only disposable RPE.

The ACoP to Regulation 9 of the COSHH Regulations states that the quality of breathing air supplied to compressed air fed RPE should be “tested at suitable intervals, depending on the task and the frequency of use.” HSE Guidance (HSG 53, Appendix 3) states that the frequency should be based upon a risk assessment, but “they should take place at least every three months, and more often when the quality of air cannot be assured to these levels.” Four foundries used this type of RPE, one tested the breathing air quality on a monthly basis, one tested annually and the other two had no formal procedure for carrying this out at the time of the research visit.

 

Training in use of PPE

One foundry had carried out training in use of protective gloves in the past and considered they needed to carry out refresher training (but hadn’t done so at the time of the research visit); another foundry had carried out some basic verbal training in glove use. No other foundries had carried out training in protective gloves.

Most foundries (ten) had carried out training in use of RPE, though at two foundries this was not recent. This was done either in-house by a supervisor or via an external provider (RPE supplier or occupational health professional).

Training in donning and doffing disposable coveralls was carried out at one foundry and another had given basic training via a video. No other foundries had carried out training on coveralls.

Conclusion

The report concludes that there were deficiencies in PPE programmes at some foundries. Examples included:

  • Protection against substances hazardous to health was not considered for all tasks where exposure might occur, e.g. fabric gloves for moulding, core making and knockout.
  • Tight fitting RPE was worn for prolonged periods at some foundries. HSG 53(1) recommends wear times of up to an hour for this type of RPE.
  • Workers were seen to wear their own clothes in some foundries. This can lead to contamination spread off site and workers continuing to be exposed.
  • Not all workers wore available PPE or wore it incorrectly. The importance of PPE as a control measure should be included in training.
  • PPE was typically stored in lockers at the end of the shifts, however gloves and RPE were removed frequently throughout the shift, and these were often left on workbenches where they could become contaminated.
  • Five foundries had no formal maintenance regimes in place for re-usable RPE.
  • Not testing breathing air quality for compressed air fed RPE on a monthly basis.
  • Face-fit testing on tight fitting RPE was not carried out at eight foundries.

Moving forward

Training on substances hazardous to health and the use of control measures was carried out at most foundries. However, this could be improved with refresher training for employees / managers as there were some instances of incorrect PPE worn and the wrong LEV used.

Training has been carried out for the managers of the eight foundries visited under the Health SRP, with four of these foundries also volunteering for a series of worker briefings by HSE SD as a strand of the work entitled ‘behavioural change’. Some of this training has been on the use of exposure controls such as LEV and RPE along with practical demonstrations. These were well received and it is hoped that this will bring about a better awareness. The impact of this training will be assessed during re-visits as part of the on-going SRP work.

 

Acknowledgements

The ‘Exposure to substances hazardous to health in foundries’ report was compiled and funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). This report describes a research project conducted by HSE; the aim was to identify benchmarks of exposure control for the foundry industry which could be used by HSE to develop examples of good control practice, and to review and update existing guidance.

Foundry workers are potentially exposed to a wide range of substances hazardous to health including: respirable crystalline silica (RCS) and other mineral dusts, metal fume and dust, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), welding fumes, oil mist, aromatic amines, benzene, binding agents (organic chemicals, tar, coal) and other constituents of ferrous foundry particulate (FFP) all of which can cause occupational diseases such as cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The project was developed by CHASAC (Castings Health and Safety Advisory Committee), a tripartite partnership working group, to target key health issues in foundries.

HSE worked with the Cast Metals Federation (CMF) and the SHIFT Initiative to bring foundries together to take part in the research project.

 

References

1. ‘Respiratory protective equipment at work; A practical guide’. HSG53 4th edition, HSE Books, 2013. Available as a download from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/priced/hsg53.pdf (accessed 27/05/16).

2. Selecting latex gloves. Available at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/skin/employ/latex-gloves.htm (accessed 24/03/16).?

3. Frost S and Harding A H, ‘The effect of wearer stubble on the protection given by filtering facepieces Class 3 (FFP3) and half masks’. HSE Research Report RR1052, HSE Books, 2015. Available as download from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrpdf/rr1052.pdf (accessed 24/03/16). ?

4. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 as amended, Approved Code of Practice and guidance, L5 6th edition, HSE Books, 2013. Available as a download from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/priced/l5.pdf (accessed 27/05/16). ??

Assigned protection factor (APF) is a number rating that indicates how much protection that an item of RPE is capable of providing.