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Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is essential gear for protecting you from inhaling hazardous substances. In this blog, we’ll explore the important role of RPE, whether you are dealing with airborne contaminants like asbestos, fumes, or dust, RPE is an essential protective equipment (PPE) that makes sure you can breathe safely. Join us as we deep dive into the different types of RPE, their applications, and how they can protect you from potential health risks.

Before you even get started with RPE, make sure you have other practical control measures in place first; such as local exhaust ventilation or direct dust-extracted tools with a vacuum catchment to get rid of the majority of contaminants in the air. You should also be keeping an eye on your team’s health and workplace conditions to ensure that, over time, they aren’t being made sick or getting injured by their work.

Remember, there is no such thing as a healthy dust, even if you are outside!

We’ve gone ahead and put together a quick guide of factors to consider when providing your workers with RPE.

Types of RPE

Dust masks are basically the bottom of the list of ways to protect yourself, we would not recommend using these as they are mostly ineffective at creating a seal between you and the contaminants.

Respirators use replaceable filters to remove contaminants to clean the air for the wearer. They come in half-face and full-face versions. The cartridge filters are specific to certain types of contaminants, ask your manufacturer exactly which cartridge you should be using for the respirator you have and the contaminants you will be facing.

 

Remember if you have stubble or any facial hair you may not be getting the seal and the protection you think you are! So if you love your beard as much as your lungs read on to find out what you can do.

half and fulled face RPE

Powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs)

Are made up of headgear and fan assembly that take contaminated air, filters it, and then delivers the clean air to the user. These are also known as positive pressure systems. These not only keep you nice and cool, but offer the highest protection there is for people who have facial hair. Something to note with these is that the visors and headset can be impact rated if you need it, and don’t fog up because of the airflow

PAPR RPE

Supplied air respirators

Provide a supply of clean air to the wearer from a source such as an air compressor or cylinder. It’s important to note that the air supply needs to be checked regularly to make sure that it is safe to use – just think about what you see coming out of your air compressor when you release the valve under the air tank! The user must also be trained in how to use the system. If using these RPE’s you need to notify WorkSafe.

BA RPE system

Using RPE

It’s important for your workers to visually check their RPE for signs of damage before each use to identify any issues, including whether it needs to be cleaned or decontaminated.

Make sure your team keep their RPE on while working in the hazardous area. Removing it for even a short period of time is a risk to their health.

Did you know that they come in different sizes? One size does not fit all!

If your workers are using RPE then make sure they are fit tested, this way you will know who needs what size, otherwise it may not work and give the protection your workers need.
The manufacturer of the RPE can tell you who can do this testing.

There are two checks which you need to do each time you use and RPE:
1 – check for damage visually to the sealing surfaces and straps
2 – check the valves are functioning correctly like WorkSafe images below

How to check RPE using hands

Image Source: Worksafe New Zealand

Keep in mind that if your worker’s safety glasses fog up while they are wearing a half-face respirator, this is a sign that there is a leak at the top of the respirator which means they are not getting full protection.

Life Shavers: Shaving your beard could save your life

When your workers are wearing respiratory protective equipment at work, they must be clean shaven to ensure it is forming a seal and protecting them from breathing in hazardous materials. Even a small amount of stubble can prevent RPE from sealing correctly which means your workers will still be inhaling harmful materials which may cause health concerns. A clean shave goes hand in hand with the correct RPE for the job.

It’s your legal responsibility to monitor your workers’ health. Make sure that you are completing regular Site Reviews on the HazardCo App, as this will help you to identify potential hazards and put effective plans in place. Your HazardCo Support Team is available throughout the day to guide you through this – call 0800 555 339 to talk it over.

Facial hair styles that work with RPE

Image Source: Worksafe

Exposure to silica dust has been spotlighted as one of the major risks to workers in the construction industry. According to 1 NEWS, more than 100 enforcement actions have been taken against Kiwi businesses since alarms were raised in Australia, where there have been several deaths from silica dust.

What is silica dust?

Great question! Silica dust (crystalline silica) is found in some stone, rock, sand, gravel, and clay. You’ll mostly come across it in the following products:

When these materials are worked on, a fine dust is released known as respirable crystalline silica or silica dust. And it’s this dust that is harmful when inhaled into your lungs.

How can workers be exposed to silica dust?

You may be exposed to silica dust if your work involves:

Are there significant health risks?

Yes, and they can be serious if the right precautions aren’t taken. Silica dust is 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, you can be breathing it in without even knowing it.

Workers may develop a series of lung diseases from breathing in silica dust, including silicosis, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. There is also some evidence that exposure to the dust may cause kidney disease.

What can be put in place on-site to mitigate the risks?

To follow health and safety laws, businesses should eliminate or minimise exposure to hazards by controlling the risks. For silica dust, this can be done in many ways:

Isolate work areas: Use physical barriers or computer numerical control (CNC) machines.
Look for dust control features: When buying equipment ensure dust-generating equipment has a dust collection system with a filtered air supply.
Use a H-class vacuum cleaner: Workers should not be using household vacuums to remove dust.
Set up exclusion zones: Mark the boundaries of work areas where dust is created. The signs should warn workers and specify the PPE to be used.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): PPE should not be the first or only control measure you consider but should be used. Seek expert advice when choosing it and consult with the worker who will be using it.
On-tool extraction: Use Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) that fits directly onto the hand-held machines. This is one of the most effective ways of controlling dust.
Water suppression: To be used when LEV is not suitable. Water should be used through non-electric tools to wet dust down at the point of dust generation. Also, make sure equipment and work areas are cleaned regularly with water.
Respiratory (breathing) protection: The type of respirator you choose will depend on the job and the levels of toxicity. Always choose a respirator that fully protects the worker and carry out fit testing so it is sealed tightly against the face.
Exposure and health monitoring: Provide health monitoring for all your workers who may be exposed to silica dust. You can engage with an occupational health practitioner at Habit Health – HazardCo customers even get a special discount.
Training: Health and safety starts with educating your workers. Provide them with information, training, and instruction on the control measures and the potential health impacts.

Remember employers are required to ensure the health and safety of their workers and others at their workplace, and have a duty to control the risks associated with the job.

At HazardCo, we’re all about education and equipping workers with the knowledge they need to get home safe at the end of the day. Educating everyone on-site about the danger and what we can do to reduce them creates a healthier worksite for everyone.

If you have any questions or want to know more about how to protect your team, get in touch today.

The workplace hazards that create risks of harm to psychological (mental) health are known as psychosocial hazards. These hazards, when excessive or prolonged, can cause serious harm.  It can have a significant impact on workers, their families and business.

Mental health problems are common, with nearly one in two New Zealanders likely to meet the criteria for a mental illness at some time in their lives. Workplaces that prioritise mental health have better engagement, reduced absenteeism and higher productivity, while people have improved wellbeing and greater morale.

Psychosocial hazards can come from:  

  • Work relationships and interactions, including bullying, harassment, discrimination, aggression and violence
  • The way the work or job is designed, organised and managed
  • The equipment, working environment or requirements to undertake duties

What are some of the work-related factors that affect a mentally healthy work site?

  • Work-related violence and aggression
  • Workplace bullying
  • Poor support
  • Lack of recognition and reward
  • Low role clarity
  • Poor organisational justice
  • Remote and isolated work

Whose responsibility is it to manage psychosocial hazards?

Workplaces have a legal responsibility to manage risks to mental health and wellbeing just like they do any other health and safety risk.
Knowing where to start can feel overwhelming but getting started doesn’t have to be. Take action to improve the mental health of your team today.

Tips to help build and maintain a mentally healthy work site: 

  • Create a more positive and supportive work site. 
    • Develop an action plan in consultation with your workers about what you can do together.
    • Check in on your workers regularly. Start a genuine conversation. Ask your worker how they are going, and listen.
    • Encourage respectful behaviour and communication.
    • Walk the talk and lead by example. Supervisors demonstrate their commitment by being supportive and positive on site.
    • Show your commitment by supporting mental health organisations and getting involved in awareness events.
    • Reinforce the good behaviours regularly and address bad behaviours as they appear.
    • Commit to zero tolerance for bullying, discrimination and violence/aggression.
    • Encourage and support employees to bring up concerns when they notice unacceptable behaviours.
  • Establish awareness and support for workers experiencing mental health issues.
    • Consistently raise awareness about mental health and well-being by having discussions such as 1:1 chats and tool box talks.
    • Share information with your workers on mental health and how to seek help to help break the stigma. Posters, emails, and discussions can all be used.
    • Encourage staff with mental health conditions to seek treatment and support early.
    • Support staff with mental health conditions to stay at or return to work.
  • Celebrate workers and their efforts.
    • Praise employees and give regular positive feedback for good work.
    • Celebrate team success. A morning tea / BBQ is also great for team bonding.
  • Take steps to improve role clarity and job satisfaction
    • Monitor and manage workloads regularly and increase input in how workers do their work.
    • Have ongoing and regular conversations with employees about their performance and behaviour.
    • Make sure your employees are clear about their roles. Position description, regular 1:1 catchups and reviews.
    • Offer opportunities for learning, problem-solving and personal development.
    • Support learning – provide opportunities for workers to learn and sharpen their skills, and set interesting challenges.

If you have challenges on your work site related to psychosocial hazards, give us a call for advice. As a HazardCo member you can have a chat with the experienced health and safety Advisory Team for no extra cost.

Lithium batteries are common in everyday life and on the worksite, their lightweight, long life, interchangeability and quick charge benefits mean that they are now used in everything from laptops to power tools to EVs. But did you know that they pose a significant risk and need to be a part of your health and safety plan?

What’s the risk?

Lithium batteries of all sizes have the potential to overheat and catch fire. The fire is hotter, harder to put out and the smoke from these fires is incredibly toxic. Lithium batteries generally overheat if they get wet, damaged or are used with incorrect charging equipment.

Damaged batteries can explode at any time giving off flames that burn anywhere between 500 and 1000 degrees celsius. These fires are very difficult to extinguish as both water and CO2 will only suppress the fire, not extinguish it. Even if the fire has been suppressed it can still ignite again if the battery still contains energy to burn. Lithium batteries are also prone to thermal runaway, which is where one small fault can spread quickly through the battery causing a rapid increase in temperature and potential explosion.

Because of this, lithium batteries need to be properly cared for according to the manufacturer’s instructions to minimise the risk, aside from that, you need a plan in place in case of a fire.

Hot tip: The bigger the battery the bigger the risk of fire and explosion because of the increase in stored energy being released, think energy in = energy out almost instantly so take extra care with larger battery packs – like the ones in your hand held power tools. 

Ways to minimise the risk:

Safe lithium battery disposal

Never dispose of Lithium batteries in general rubbish as it can result in a fire in your bin or on the way to a transfer station, creating a risk to those transporting them. The manufacturer should be able to advise safe disposal or check out your local battery recycling centre.

Lithium batteries are going to continue playing a crucial role in our workplaces and lifestyles, so it’s necessary to recognize the potential hazards associated with them. By having awareness of these risks and good practices, we can work together to reduce the potential dangers, resulting in safer working environments where Lithium batteries are used.

If you have any questions, give the Hazardco team a call today!

Man wearing full faced RPE
Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is essential gear for protecting you from inhaling hazardous substances. In this blog, we’ll explore the important role of RPE, whether you are dealing w...
Stacked blocks on engineered stone containing silica dust
Exposure to silica dust has been spotlighted as one of the major risks to workers in the construction industry. According to 1 NEWS, more than 100 enforcement actions have been taken against K...
Female construction worker sitting with head in hand
The workplace hazards that create risks of harm to psychological (mental) health are known as psychosocial hazards. These hazards, when excessive or prolonged, can cause serious harm.  It ca...
Lithium Battery with drill and screws
Lithium batteries are common in everyday life and on the worksite, their lightweight, long life, interchangeability and quick charge benefits mean that they are now used in everything from lap...