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Driving and celebrating innovation

23 January 2013

BSIF CEO David Lummis discusses how continual innovation in the safety industry is helping keep employees safe and explains what role the BSIF plays in promoting this innovation Every employee has a right to work in an env

BSIF CEO David Lummis discusses how continual innovation in the safety industry is helping keep employees safe and explains what role the BSIF plays in promoting this innovation

Every employee has a right to work in an environment that poses no risk to their health and safety. In 1974 a key piece of legislation was enforced that would influence the working lives of many - the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This is a primary piece of legislative framework which covers occupational health and safety in the United Kingdom (UK) and it was introduced to deliver significant improvements in workplace health and safety, including requiring employers to ensure that the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is worn by its workforce. Since its inception, The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (known as COSHH) has been introduced and this is viewed as one of the most important pieces of legislation relating to chemical hazards at work. COSHH requires employers to undertake certain legal duties, including risk assessment, prevention or control of exposure, use and maintenance of controls, health surveillance and provision of information and training. Whilst these two key pieces of legislation have been enhanced by a number of new laws and amendments, they were certainly a catalyst for the ongoing design and manufacture of quality PPE.

Although the concept of personal protection was not new at this time, the legislation brought a heavier emphasis on the use of PPE. The equipment needed to protect workers, the look and comfort of the product was not a priority. However, as the years evolved, the users of this equipment demanded more, it simply wasn't enough for it to function, it needed to be comfortable, look good and protect. This, combined with a more highly skilled and educated workforce has created higher expectations from PPE end users. This demand for better PPE has in turn fuelled PPE product development.

Manufacturing is currently the subject of heightened policy attention in the UK, much of which can be attributed to the goal of 'rebalancing' the economy away from an overdependence on services ? notably financial services ? and towards the production of 'real' goods. Innovative firms will help drive the new breakthroughs which bring long-term wider benefits to the economy.

This need for innovation within the manufacturing industry reflects the situation already existing in our occupational safety markets. The UK's occupational safety regime has an admirable record and the UK has long been viewed as one of the world leaders in workplace health and safety. The innovative use of new solutions and technologies helps contribute to this success.

Providing industry recognition With this innovation comes the need for industry recognition. Each year, the BSIF's Safety Awards highlight and encourage innovative solutions to safety problems. Past winners of the product innovation awards have included products that have incorporated new technologies, simplified complex processes or just overcome a hazard that has continued to damage workers health up until that point. Last year's winner, Sperian, designed a product that accurately measured the actual effectiveness of earplugs in use by an individual, whilst the prior year's winner, Polyco, produced a product that helped overcome problems in the meat industry by developing a new glove fibre that offered dexterity, wearabilty and maximum protection.

These products though are just the tip of the iceberg. Since then, new competition entries include, stable, robust and lightweight helmets, very low resistance respirators, specialist antiarc clothing using new materials, online training and assessments and better ways of displaying safety signs, to name just a few.

Nevertheless, it would be fair to say that product innovation is just part of the story. The BSIF safety excellence awards have commended new services and operating methods that have offered real innovation to UK employers, making employees safer and often contributing to cost savings.

This year the 2011 BSIF Safety Award winners will be announced at the forthcoming Safety & Health Expo (17th ? 19th May) at the NEC. Once again, we have received an outstanding set of entries and the competition and innovation continues fiercely.

The PPE market is heavily dependent on technological innovations and it seems that UK safety equipment manufacturers do not fail to disappoint. The UK continually delivers new innovative ways to spread the word of health and safety with most recently, a Manchester businessman creating an innovative hairdressing health and safety application for the iphone. With new technology comes new opportunities. The UK Government need look no further to find a success story of innovation.