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Are you certain it's safe?

23 January 2013

When it comes to safety, it is essential that both the products and personnel that you rely on are up to the job. Fortunately there are some tools available to help you make this assessment, explains David Lummis To co

When it comes to safety, it is essential that both the products and personnel that you rely on are up to the job. Fortunately there are some tools available to help you make this assessment, explains David Lummis

To comply with the law, all personal protective equipment (PPE) must be tested and approved to appropriate CE standards and marked as such.

Following an employer undertaking a risk assessment, the appropriate method of protecting the employee from a workplace hazard must be implemented. If that requires the use of PPE, it is essential to ensure the product performs to the appropriate standard and is clearly marked as such. But, can you be sure the product 'does what it says on the tin'? The BBC has highlighted the problem of fake and illegal safety equipment through its series, 'Fake Britain' and has exposed a number of products that just do not perform as they should.

Trading Standards is becoming increasingly active in this area as awareness grows.

To make life even more difficult, there is an ever increasing number of fake CE approval certificates being exposed and reported through the EU commission.

All too frequently, fake products do not perform satisfactorily, exposing employees to hazards they should be protected from and leading to a false sense of security in employees and employers. On top of this, if the products you buy are not genuine and do not perform, you will be breaking the law (it is your responsibility to ensure the products perform adequately) and therefore risk prosecution. The questions is, are you 'Certain it's safe?' When BSIF is informed of fake products, all too often they have been sourced from a 'remote' supplier, such as internet auction sites or street markets. Not surprisingly their sales edge is often price and to achieve this some corners may be cut. For products that could save your life, 'cutting corners' is not ideal and buying from sources with no provenance, expertise or recourse is just plain silly. Why do it to save a few pence and risk a life.

Look for the Registered Safety Supplier Scheme shield In order to help companies choose a reputable supplier the safest option is to look for those who are registered under the BSIF Registered Safety Supplier scheme. Look for the Registered Safety Supplier shield.

Another serious problem in the safety world is competence.

Saying 'I can do it' and actually having the skills to do it can be some distance apart. If we take the instance of RPE fit testing, which is a relatively straight forward procedure, it is amazing how low the levels of competence can be. Where a face seal is required, RPE must be fit tested to each individual, to ensure the product fits correctly and prevents exposure of the hazard to the wearer. Without a correct seal, inward leakage of the hazardous substance will occur, putting health at risk.

Competence in fit testing is essential to prevent harming wearers, but at the moment, more than 50% of those being assessed for accreditation as a competent fit tester under the Fit2Fit scheme are failing. Some by a significant margin! Worryingly, this is just one sector within the whole spectrum of occupational safety related activities, but it highlights a potential problem.

Ensuring the competence of the people you employ in your safety activities is essential. This applies equally to those working for your company, as to any consultants you may bring in. But how can you go about this? Recognising the problem, the HSE along with a number of industry stakeholders including the BSIF have established the Occupational Safety & Health Consultants Register (OSHCR) scheme that lists health and safety consultants who have met certain standards within their professional bodies and who have a proven level of knowledge. It is an excellent starting point. There are other accreditation schemes such as Fit2Fit that can offer some independent guidance.

An individual's qualifications are a good guide, but remember they may have been taken some time ago and skills may have grown rusty or the skill requirements may have changed as industry develops.

Ensure the individual is a member of a CPD (continuous personal development) scheme. These are operated by the major occupational safety and health institutes such as IOSH or IIRSM and of course membership of a professional institute is a good indicator of knowledge. Finally, references are extremely useful, be those from external sources or internal company experience.

As the employer creating the hazard, you have a duty to protect your workforce and ensure the safety regime you have put in place works. If you are not 'Certain it's safe' think again.