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Campaign launched to improve respiratory protection

23 January 2013

Aiming to increase awareness of occupational respiratory diseases and how to prevent them, the BSIF/HSE "Clean Air? - Take Care!" campaign is now officially underway with lots of free guidance and resources on offer to help

Aiming to increase awareness of occupational respiratory diseases and how to prevent them, the BSIF/HSE "Clean Air? - Take Care!" campaign is now officially underway with lots of free guidance and resources on offer to help HSM readers play their part

It is estimated that up to 12,000 deaths each year currently could be due to past exposures to hazardous substances.

Geoff Hooke, British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) Secretary General explains: "The fact that many respiratory diseases are insidious by nature means that they are usually contracted without the sufferer being aware and by the time they are diagnosed, it is often too late to adequately treat them and could therefore lead to a possibly life-threatening situation. The dangers associated with the inhalation of asbestos fibres are well known, but there is a significant array of carcinogens and toxins contained within dusts, fumes and solvent vapours that can be inhaled at work and have similar effects." Research has established that as many as 5.5 million workers are exposed to respiratory hazards in the workplace and of these, approximately half wear respiratory protective equipment (RPE).

Often, those using RPE are still not adequately protected due to poor selection, use and maintenance of the equipment. A survey by HSE indicated that 29 per cent of workers regarded themselves as regularly having to breathe in dust or fumes that could cause respiratory conditions and nearly half thought that the risks could be realistically reduced.

Geoff continues: "We estimate that only a quarter of those at risk are adequately protected. Therefore in excess of four million workers are exposed to respiratory hazards and could experience some form of respiratory disease during their lifetime. The simple conclusion is that more needs to be done to ensure those at risk are adequately protected." Both the BSIF and the HSE had been concerned about respiratory protection, or the lack of it, for some time. Therefore, it seemed only natural for both organisations to combine and develop a new initiative to stimulate a wider public understanding of the depth of the problem in the hope that employers and their staff would start to take this matter seriously.

Fully aware that a wider engagement would be necessary for success, IOSH, BOHS, RoSPA, IIRSM and SGUK were approached and willingly agreed to contribute to the development of the campaign and its delivery. Early research clearly demonstrated that over a half of enquiries on respiratory protection are made initially to supplying manufacturers and distributors and only a minority of questions aimed at safety consultants. From this, it was obvious that the best chance of passing information to smaller companies, which usually fall below the enforcement radar, would be through a combination of BSIF members and these consultancy and training institutions, supported by targeted enforcement by the HSE, all focused on a single persuasive message.

The campaign team has developed a simple workplace poster to alert employees to the ways in which they should check that their respiratory protection is adequately fit-tested, worn and maintained and a selection guidance leaflet to help their employers assess the most appropriate type of protection. This guidance is designed in such a way that the completed enquiry form, using a simple risk assessment, can be used to discuss protection options with suppliers. This capitalises on the expertise of specialist manufacturers and safety distributors recognising that most will seek assistance from this source. It also provides suppliers with concise information so that they can help employers select suitable equipment.

A useful DVD has also been developed containing thought provoking films from a doctor and a sufferer together with a "good practice" presentation explaining how to evaluate the risks and deploy suitable protection. These will be useful for tool-box presentations and help to illustrate shop-floor and safety management training sessions. In addition the DVD contains PDFs of the poster and the guidance leaflet for printing in-house.

The informative tools are available from www.cleanairtakecare.org as well as through RPE distributors and manufacturers.