30 September 2020
IN THE UK, we enjoy some of the most varied weather patterns in the world. It’s part of what makes up Britain and gives us something to discuss over a cup of tea and a pack of Hobnobs, so we adapt and learn to cope with it. Similarly, in the world of safety it’s so important to make sure you adapt to the weather, ensuring you’re protected without compromising your health.
So, here’s some suggestions when selecting PPE and workwear in the four seasons to stay safe and healthy.
It made sense to start here, seeing as we’re clearly heading fast into it! The obvious threat to UK workers is the cold temperatures and freezing and icy conditions as well as there being less light during the day. When selecting PPE and workwear for this season, it pays to bear in mind the following:
- Layer up – this is the best way to ensure you’re kept warm, because between each layer is a barrier of air which acts as a further insulator. Start with thermal base layers, followed by a t-shirt or polo shirt and a pair of trousers. Then a mid-layer like a fleece or lightweight softshell and depending on how cold it is, a shell jacket on top to keep the rain out.
- Also, don’t forget your extremities which is often where the most heat escapes i.e. head, hands and feet. You can look after these by ensuring you have a decent hat or helmet liner, a good pair of thermal gloves and thermal socks to ensure sub-zero temperatures don’t make you ill.
- Make sure you have your hi-vis garments up-to-date. With the nights fully drawn in, it’s likely that operatives will be on site when it’s dark and whilst floodlights and other lighting solutions help, it’s important that your hi-vis garments aren’t worn out and not so reflective. Most hi-vis garments will last for 25 washes which isn’t many when you’re talking about trousers, polo shirts, fleeces etc.
As the country makes its way out of the freeze, and we get a hint of the summer that lies ahead, ‘April showers’ are inevitable. Along with this, the temperatures, whilst varying will generally be increasing, so getting the balance between staying dry and regulating your body temperature is important.
The following are a few tips for selecting PPE in the springtime:
- Make sure your garments are not only waterproof, but breathable too. This means that the garment keeps the rain out, but allows the perspiration generated whilst working, to escape, consequently improving the comfort of the garment and allowing the wearer to focus on the job in hand. EN343 is the standard for Waterproof & Breathable Protective Clothing, and the most effective garments will be certified to EN343 Class 3:3. The two classes represent water penetration resistance and breathability on a scale of 1 to 3.
- With the unpredictable weather at this time of year, again, it’s good to layer up with thinner layers, rather than having one thick layer to keep you warm. This way, when you begin to get warm whilst working, instead of taking off your one warm layer and being exposed to cooler temperatures, you remove a thin layer of warmth which will make it cooler without sacrificing all your thermal protection.
- Again, with the temperatures broadly rising, it’s also worth considering garments with cooling or sweat wicking properties. There are many options available and these can be worn layered with warmer layers to create the best of both worlds.
It’s this time of year that everyone begins to feel good. The skies are blue, and the sun is out (mostly), but don’t let this fool you into thinking you can be carefree about safety. The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 does require employers to consider work environments, which includes the weather, so here’s a few tips when updating your PPE for the summer:
- Use garments with UV protective properties. There’s a lot of options out there, including cheap products that don’t offer the protection required, so make sure your garments are certified to EN13758-2 which relates to the Solar UV protective properties of fabrics. Also, whilst it sounds contradictory, wear long sleeved garments as much as is comfortable. It’ll protect your arms from the UV coming from the sun, and if you work in an environment with insect problems, it will help with that.
- Mince pies, peepers, whatever you call your eyes, it’s important to ensure they’re protected during the summer months. Whilst it will take seconds for damage to occur if you stare directly at the sun, not many partake in this kind of activity so it will take time for UV damage to develop. But still, make sure that you wear tinted safety glasses with certified UV protection whilst working outside. The standard to look for is EN172 which specifies the requirements for sun glare filters used in personal eye-protectors for industrial use.
- Don’t forget sun screen and remember to re-apply it throughout the day. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends you ‘apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 15+ liberally and re-apply every two hours, or after working, swimming, playing or exercising outdoors.’ Also, there’s plenty of other options for protecting yourself from UV. If you don’t require a safety helmet, wear a hat or head covering of some variety, and if you do need to wear a safety helmet, make sure it’s vented and consider other compatible accessories such as neck capes.
As the leaves begin to tumble, the temperature begins to drop and the rain begins to fall, there’s something whimsical and cosy about Autumn. It’s also the time of year when working conditions can be lethal, so pay attention to the following to help you make the right choices with your PPE:
- With all the rain that comes our way at this time of year, it’s important to make sure you select your footwear carefully and look after your feet. Wet feet can cause a condition called trench foot which is caused by lengthy exposure to wet and cold environments, and it’s not a comfortable condition to have. It can be avoided by making sure your boots have a breathable waterproof membrane and that if they get wet, you make sure you dry them out correctly.
- Continuing with footwear, consider the sole unit of the boot that you are purchasing. With the increased surface water, slips, trips and falls become more of a hazard and a quality, well-designed sole unit can save a lot of potential injury and downtime. EN ISO 20345:2011 is the standard which all styles that are classified as ‘safety footwear’ are tested to and make sure your boots are SRC slip rated.
- With daily light decreasing and the sun sitting lower in the sky, if you’re moving between the indoors and outdoors regularly, your eyes may take a few seconds to adjust to the differences in light levels. This creates the potential for an accident, so it’s worthwhile considering a pair of indoor/outdoor lens safety glasses. They use a slight mirror effect on the lens which reduces glare but allows you to have good vision in shaded areas, thereby keeping pupil adjustment to a minimum.
In conclusion, the most important thing to consider is, whatever the weather, your PPE must be suitable for the hazards presented in your working environment, and it must conform to the relevant standards. Making sure the PPE and workwear is comfortable just makes it easier for teams to stay safe and keep healthy.