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March 19, 2010

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Campaign – Improving awareness and use of respiratory protection

The British Safety Industry Federation has officially launched its ‘Clean Air? Take Care!’ campaign to tackle the thousands of lives lost every year through uncontrolled exposure to respiratory hazards in the workplace.

Speaking at the launch yesterday (18 March) of a range of tools to help employers select and maintain respiratory protective equipment, and employees to use it properly, BSIF chair David Hall said the campaign was developed by the Federation in partnership with the HSE and a range of other stakeholders to address a “major issue in the UK that needs to be improved”.

He explained: “The vision of the campaign is to achieve a significant reduction in diseases caused by exposure to respiratory hazards in the workplace by providing simple guidance and advice to improve the selection, provision, use and maintenance of RPE.”

Substantial research by the BSIF revealed that although some 5.5 million people face respiratory hazards in the UK every day in around 224,000 workplaces, only half of these use any RPE at all.

Said the Federation’s David Lummis: “That means 2.75 million people have no protection against respiratory hazards, and of those that do, most of the equipment they use is inadequate.”

The BSIF also asked those companies that do provide RPE where they get their advice on selection and use, and less than 10 per cent said they used official guidance, i.e. the HSE’s HSG53. The vast majority – 65 per cent – go to a distributor or manufacturer of the products, while 25 per cent use their own safety professionals, or an external safety consultant.

Thus, concluded Lummis, “the industry stakeholders and BSIF member companies supporting this campaign must ensure they are providing accurate and sensible advice, using simple messages to get to those 2.75 million people not currently wearing the RPE that they should be”.

The package of campaign materials includes two short films in which a worker/RPE wearer and a respiratory physician give their views on the importance of selecting the right equipment and using it properly. A 12-minute toolbox talk for managers is also available, containing clear and straightforward advice on how to select respirators correctly.

A product selection guide based on HSG53 condenses the heavyweight, 80-page guidance document into a four-page A4 leaflet, written in ‘real-world’ language and asking simple questions.

Finally, an A3 poster designed to be displayed in workplaces is also available, which explains to workers, in clear terms and via cartoon illustrations, the importance of using, storing and maintaining the RPE provided for them properly.

According to 3M’s Alan McArthur, who was heavily involved in the development of the materials, they are designed to be used in different ways. He explained: “They can be used to create awareness at different levels of the organisation to educate and train people for reference, and to aid the correct selection and use of RPE.”

The campaign is supported by, among others, IOSH, the TUC, Safety Groups UK and the British Occupational Hygiene Society, whose chief executive, Steve Perkins, explained why his members will be distributing the tools throughout the occupational-hygiene network: “We want to increase awareness of the hazards, improve knowledge of how to run an RPE programme, provide easily accessible help and advice, and improve the competency of fit-testers.

“The target audiences are employers/managers, employees, specifiers, safety professionals, and SMEs, and our aims are to inform, educate and assist.”

HSE Principal Specialist Inspector, Bob Rajan, put the importance of the campaign into context by emphasising that 12,000 people in the UK die every year as a result of past exposure to respiratory hazards. He said: We all have a lesson to learn and this campaign will deliver it. We want that figure of 12,000 to be the history and better protection for those using RPE today to be the future.”

The campaign website – www.cleanairtakecare.org – is now live. The product selection guide and workplace poster can be downloaded from it, and copies of the DVD films and toolbox talk requested.

Pictured at the campaign launch on 18 March are (l-r): Alan McArthur, David Lummis, Bob Rajan, Peter Upcott of BoC, Steve Perkins, and David Hall

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