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SHEP survey confirms huge increase in awareness of hazardous airborne particulate

In a survey carried out by the Safety and Health Engineering Partnership (SHEP), 84 per cent of respondents stated that the Covid pandemic has made them more aware of how virus, bacteria and other particles are transmitted through the air, and 70 per cent advised that Covid has made them more aware of the dangers of airborne particles.

“Whilst Covid transmission is an extreme example of the risks posed by exposure to airborne particles, this is only one type of particle which poses a risk to human health,” says SHEP chairman Chris Buxton, CEO of the British Fluid Power Association (BFPA). “People working in the manufacturing and engineering industries can be exposed to a wide range of particulate which can have detrimental effects on their health, so this is not a new issue in our industry – although obviously prior to Covid it was predominantly dust, oil mist, fumes, smoke and chemicals which were the main offenders.” SHEP was established in 2018 to provide a focus and communications platform for all issues relating to health and safety in the engineering sector, participating trade associations and their members.

“As the current HSE manufacturing workplan is focussing on trying to reduce incidents of occupational lung disease, SHEP has undertaken a number of activities to align itself with this objective and help the HSE reach smaller SMEs in our industry,” continues Buxton. “It is encouraging to see that 97 per cent of the respondents to our survey advised that they understood the risks posed by exposure to industrial airborne contaminants and 84 per cent are confident their employer has sufficient control measures in place.

“However, what is worrying is the fact that 27 per cent of responses advised that their employer does not provide training on how to use control measures and 21 per cent admitted that their local exhaust ventilation (LEV) systems are tested by a competent person less than once every 14 months. “Providing controls is a great start, but if operatives do not understand how to use them, they may have little impact. LEV is widely regarded as the most effective control for airborne particles and COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) regulations require a minimum testing frequency of 14 months – this means that potentially many UK manufacturers are still not adhering to this requirement.

“Exposure to airborne particles in the workplace can result in a wide range of life-changing respiratory diseases including COPD, occupational asthma and occupational hypersensitivity pneumonitis. A range of initiatives including Breathe Freely from SHEP member BOHS, and ‘Love your Lungs Week’ from the British Lung Foundation aim to keep this subject in the spotlight, but it’s vital that employers are continually ensuring they are doing everything they can to protect their employees from hazardous substances in the workplace.” The HSE is currently inspecting businesses to ensure that exposure to metalworking fluids and welding fume are being properly controlled. The SHEP survey revealed that 36.5 per cent of respondents claimed they have revisited their risk assessments in relation to airborne particles other than Covid as a result of the pandemic.

“It will be interesting to see if the results from the current inspection programme compare favourably with visits carried out in the first quarter of 2020 before Covid had really hit,” says Buxton. “The last 18 months have been extremely difficult for everyone, so we should take the positives where we can and if that means that internal air quality has moved up the agenda in our industry then that can only be a good thing.” SHEP was convened by popular demand from both the industry and by the Health & Safety Executive staff responsible for supporting the engineering sector.

The purpose of the forum is to enable industry to engage, influence and inform HSE to effectively improve health and safety standards within the engineering sector. The forum enables information to be shared between industry and HSE so that a better understanding of key health and safety risks can be fully identified. It also ensures access to relevant and straight forward advice and guidance.

Find out more about SHEP, its members and forthcoming events at: www.shepuk.co.uk

Clean Air Survey 2021

This online survey was distributed via the SHEP member network. There were 63 respondents – 60 per cent of which stated they were employers, 40 per cent employees.

Key stats:

  • 84 per cent of respondents stated Covid has made them more aware of how virus, bacteria and other particles are transmitted through the air.
  • 70 per cent replied that Covid has made them more aware of the dangers of airborne particles.
  • Covid has resulted in 36.5 per cent of respondents stating that they have reassessed their risk assessments in relation to airborne particles other than Covid.
  • 84 per cent are confident their employer is using sufficient control measures to protect employees form exposure to ALL airborne particles, not just Covid.
  • 27 per cent don’t provide training on using control measure.
  • 19 per cent did not know that face coverings are not classed as PPE.
  • 52 per cent do not monitor air quality in their workplace.
  • 21 per cent admitted that their LEV systems are tested less than once every 14 months.