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The Clean Air? Take Care! Campaign

05 April 2017

The HSM Campaigns Hub provides you with information on the latest health & safety initiatives and how you can get involved. This issue we examine the BSIF's Clean Air? Take Care! campaign.

Occupational respiratory illness is still a big killer. In the UK around 12,000 people die every year of respiratory diseases, caused by breathing in a hazardous substance at work. Many thousands more suffer serious illnesses, affecting almost every aspect of their lives and ruining later years, just when they are supposed to have the time to enjoy life. And it’s not a question of ‘for how long’ or ‘to what level’; sometimes just a short exposure is enough to do permanent damage.

The British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) warns that you should not think ‘it won’t happen here’ and that if you are concerned there could be a breathing hazard at work, then address it. As Frank Angear, general manager at the BSIF, observed: "You owe it to your workforce and colleagues, their families, friends and loved ones."

Against this backdrop, the Clean Air? Take Care! campaign was launched. The joint initiative between the BSIF and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), together with a number of safety industry stakeholders, aims to reducing occupational respiratory disease and trade organisations are encouraged to take part. Frank explained: "With their help we can highlight the problem of respiratory disease and promote sensible solutions to respiratory protection in the workplace."

The initiative is centred on a range of national activities and educational seminars designed to raise awareness among Respiratory Protection Equipment (RPE) users, employers, fit testers and advisors on the correct selection, deployment, use, maintenance and storage of RPE. The campaign is supported by IOSH, IOM, Safety Groups UK, BOHS, IIRSM, TUC and many others.

By supplying simple advice to users and specifiers of RPE, the campaign aims to help people correctly select RPE and implement a full respiratory protection programme.

A new and extensive selection of 'tools' is available to support the campaign. These include a simple RPE selection guide and an informative RPE user poster that can be downloaded from this site.

There are a number of videos available, such as the 'Employers Tool Box Presentation' video, which provides information to help you correctly select and use respirators if they're needed to control exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace. Similarly, the 'Are you Breathing Clean Air at Work?' video advises on the correct usage of RPE, while 'Lung Disease Caused By Work' explains preventative measures that can be taken in the workplace.

Several years since the campaign started, awareness has widened of the levels of ill health and death caused by exposure to breathing hazards at work, with many of the original supporters producing campaigns of their own, such as the IOSH ‘No time to lose’ campaign on occupational cancers focusing on hazards like diesel exhaust fumes, the BOHS ‘Breathe Freely’ campaign targeted at construction workers, and the HSE’s Construction Dust Partnership and Beware Asbestos initiatives.

So what information is available?

What are breathing hazards?

One type of breathing hazard is fine particles, such as dusts and fibres. The other is gases and vapours, which may not even have a smell. Particle hazards are the most common. To control the risk you need to know what the hazard is. Employers must appoint a competent person to carry out a risk assessment and find out if there is an issue.

If the assessment finds a breathing hazard, the Clean Air? Take Care! campaign provides the following list of actions aimed at reducing exposure to a harmless level:

  • Elimination: Change the process
  • Substitution: Use a less hazardous alternative
  • Engineering Controls: Enclose the area or use a Local Exhaust Ventilation extraction system
  • Administrative Controls: Training and work scheduling to avoid exposure

As with other types of workplace hazard, these actions promote ways of eliminating or reducing the hazard so that using personal protective equipment (PPE) is not necessary.

Frank Angear, asserted: "First of all see if an alternative substance that is not hazardous can be used. If not, enclose the process to separate it from the workforce, or use local exhaust ventilation (LEV) to draw it away before it is breathed in. Lastly, organise the work schedule so as few people as possible are around when the hazard is present, then you only have to control it for those few. You might combine several of these steps to tackle the hazard, but if you still can’t reduce it to a harmless level you may need to use RPE. It is a legal requirement that employers do not allow staff to be exposed to more than levels permitted by HSE, but good practice is to reduce exposure as far as possible."

What types of respirators are there?

Clean Air? Take Care! also provides information on the two main groups of RPE: Filter respirators and Air Supplied respirators. Filter respirators use the air surrounding you and clean it as you breathe in, while Air Supplied respirators bring air from a separate source, independent of the surrounding atmosphere.

Filter respirators are the most commonly used in everyday work situations. There are several types:

  • Filtering Facepieces, also known as disposable or single shift respirators, usually cup shaped or folded out from a flat shape. After use they are generally discarded
  • Re-useable Half Mask Respirators with detachable filters. After use most of the respirator is retained, cleaned and maintained. Once exhausted the filter is discarded and replaced
  • Low Maintenance Respirators (usually half masks), look similar to re-useable masks but the filters are not detachable. Once the filters are exhausted the whole respirator is discarded
  • Full Face Mask Respirators, which also cover the eyes and face with a protective visor. They provide a higher level of protection to half mask respirators
  • Powered Respirators, with a rechargeable battery and a motorised fan to direct the filtered air to the breathing zone. These are more comfortable for longer periods. They often use hoods or visors with a ‘loose seal’ at the chin or neck, which do not require a fit test, but they do not provide protection with the power off
  • Power Assisted Respirators, operating in the same way as powered respirators but feeding the air to a half or full facemask (a ‘tight fitting’ face piece). They are sometimes used against higher levels of hazard than a powered respirator with a loose seal as, power off, they ‘failsafe’ to work like an unpowered respirator and continue to provide protection.

"RPE should be put on before entering the work area with the hazard, worn all the time where there is potential for exposure, and not removed until the wearer is clear of that area," noted Angear. "The HSE recommend that non-powered respirators are not used continuously for more than one hour without a break. If your workforce need to use RPE continuously for more than an hour consider using a powered respirator or constant flow airline."

Will they need a fit test?
Respirators that work by sealing on the wearer’s face, the HSE call them ‘tight fitting’, require anyone using one at work to have a fit test to show the make and model they use suits them individually and is capable of providing them with the expected level of protection. If you don’t check that the RPE you plan to use fits the wearer, it’s very likely to let unfiltered air in at the face seal, so it’s not protecting them.

A fit test is different from a pre-use seal check, which should be done every time the respirator is worn to check the wearer has put it on correctly. Think of it like a pair of shoes. You can be measured to ensure you buy shoes that fit you properly, so they won’t hurt your feet. That’s like a fit test. But every time you wear the shoes you check that you’ve done the laces up correctly, so they won’t fall off. That’s like a seal test. Everyone on your workforce who uses a ‘tight fitting’ respirator for protection will need to have a fit test.

Air supplied RPE includes Constant Flow Airline, used where compressed air is available such as in a spray booth.  Breathing apparatus, or BA, is also air supplied, pressurised either in a hose or cylinder. This can be used in poorly ventilated conditions and is more often associated with emergency situations or maintenance processes, employed by specialist users such as fire brigades.

Clean Air? Take Care! provides a link to an HSE video that explains more about using RPE and a link to find out more about fit testing.

What types of filter are there?

There are two types of filter, one for particles and one for gases and vapours. ‘P’ filters, marked P1, P2 or P3, trap particles and allow air through. P3 is the most efficient, trapping the highest percentage of particles. Gas and vapour filters work differently. They are labelled with colour and letter codes to show the type of gas they protect against. They are also classed 1, 2 or 3, but based on how long they will last. Gas filters use activated carbon to adsorb gas or vapour hazards and allow air through. Not every gas can be filtered so careful selection is necessary.

Combined filters are also available, and widely used. They protect against particles, gases and vapours at the same time by containing both types of filter media, and they carry both markings.

Once again, the Clean Air? Take Care! website helps you to select the right respirator via a link to an online RPE selector. Developed by the HSE and the Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives, it takes you step by step through the selection process.

Dr Bob Rajan OBE, acting chairman of Safety Groups UK, is a keen supporter of the campaign: "Although RPE looks easy, this is not always the case and everyone has lessons to learn. I am confident that through the Clean Air? Take Care! campaign these lessons will be delivered with the support of stakeholders and distributors. The range of tools for both employers and employees will help ensure the important messages get across and are absorbed, bringing about a sustained behavioural change within the workplace."

To download a workplace poster, a presentation, a tool-box talk and find links to further information go to: http://www.bsif.co.uk/clean-air-take-care-