Health of UK Employees

Health of UK Employees

How mental ill health and work-related stress can go together

Work-related stress and mental health problems often go together and the symptoms can be very similar.

Work-related stress can aggravate an existing mental health problem, making it more difficult to control. If work-related stress reaches a point where it has triggered an existing mental health problem, it becomes hard to separate one from the other.

Common mental health problems and stress can exist independently – people can experience work-related stress and physical changes such as high blood pressure, without having anxiety, depression or other mental health problems. They can also have anxiety and depression without experiencing stress. The key differences between them are their cause(s) and the way(s) they are treated.

Stress is a reaction to events or experiences in someone’s home life, work life or a combination of both. Common mental health problems can have a single cause outside work, for example bereavement, divorce, postnatal depression, a medical condition or a family history of the problem. But people can have these sorts of problems with no obvious causes.

As an employer, you can help manage and prevent stress by improving conditions at work. But you also have a role in making adjustments and helping someone manage a mental health problem at work.

Source: HSE

Detection of Gas/Vapour HSE Safety Alert

Failure to detect dangerous gas/vapour due to incorrect specification of sample tube

Health and Safety Executive – Safety alert

Department Name:
Chemicals, Explosives and Microbiological Hazards Division (CEMHD)

Bulletin No:
CEMHD1 – 2020

Issue Date:
10 September 2020

Target Audience:

  • Personnel specifying and selecting devices for measuring concentrations of flammable and toxic gases
  • Chemical processing and production


Key Issues:
This safety alert highlights the risk of misleading gas detection readings associated with the use of sampling tubes with pumped gas detectors.  Sampling tubes are sometimes used to extend the reach of the detection device and/or to allow detection at an increased distance from the user.

In a recent incident a gas detector failed to detect the presence of a flammable vapour.  Hot work proceeded in the belief that there was no flammable vapour present.  The subsequent explosion resulted in a fatal injury.

The investigation found that a significant contributor to the failure to detect the flammable vapour was it being adsorbed on the inner surface of the sample tube.  This meant that no flammable vapour reached the detector before the test was completed and a false conclusion that the work area was free of flammable vapour.

This incident has highlighted the importance of selecting the correct systems for gas detection and verifying the effectiveness of the detection system.

The purpose of this safety alert is to highlight the risk of adsorption if an unsuitable sample tube is used.

Introduction

  • Gas detection may be used in support of a risk assessment associated with, for example, hot work or confined space entry.  It is important that the gas detection system used is suitable for the intended purpose and gives a sufficiently accurate and reliable indication of the presence of the hazardous material.  Pumped gas detectors can be used to sample locations at a distance from the detector via a sampling tube.
  • In a recent incident, a gas detector failed to detect a flammable atmosphere.  Hot work proceeded based on the false reading.  The hot work resulted in ignition of a flammable atmosphere and a fatal injury.
  • While there were errors in the selection and set-up of the gas detector, the most significant contributor to the failure of the gas detector was the adsorption of the flammable vapour on the surface of the sample tube before it could reach the gas detector.
  • This safety alert is to remind operators of the need to ensure the suitability of gas detection system for its intended purpose.

Background

  • The gas detector involved in the incident performed in accordance with the manufacturer’s specification. 
  • The manufacturer’s technical performance information reported that it was not suitable for the detection of the substance to be measured.  The detector was being used for a substance other than its calibration gas but had not been configured to include a correction factor.  Each of these issues would have resulted in an incorrect reading.  On this occasion, if these had been the only faults the reading would still have been sufficient to result in a decision not to proceed with the hot work.
  • The most significant contributor to the failure was the adsorption of the substance of interest on the inner surface of the sample tube.  During laboratory testing of the gas detector and at a concentration of 50%LEL (lower explosion limit) of the substance involved, the sample tube extended the time to achieve a non-zero reading by more than 1 minute. This extension was considerably longer than the time taken to test at any particular location with a recommended sample tube fitted.  At 50%LEL of the substance involved, the time to achieve 90% of the final reading was over 15 minutes. 
  • The same gas detector and sample tube had a response time of less than 5 seconds to the calibration gas (methane).
  • The phenomenon of adsorption of some substances on sample tubes is known.  It is mentioned in each of the references to this safety alert and has been studied in previous HSE research (eg Research Report RR635).
  • Review of manuals for gas detectors from a range of manufacturers has identified that most manuals include little or no information on the importance of selecting a sample system of a suitable material.
  • While the incident to which this safety alert refers involved a highly flammable substance and measurement of LEL, similar issues may apply to some other gases, particularly reactive gases such as H2S and NOx.

Action required

  • Operating instructions for most gas detectors recommend a function check (often referred to as a ‘bump test’) before each day’s use.  This is additional to the requirement for periodic calibration.  It is recommended in the case of gas detectors that will be used with a sample tube, at least the first function check (‘bump test’) for a new intended use and/or a new sampling configuration be conducted using the combination of the gas detector and its sample tube and the substance of interest, where practicable.  This is of particular importance if the substance of interest is not the substance used to calibrate.
  • For example, the head space in a sample jar containing a liquid sample of the substance of interest at a temperature above its flashpoint would be expected to give an output representing greater than 100%LEL.
  • Sample tubes should be as short as possible.  The increase in response time should not exceed the response time of the gas detector without a sample tube plus the delay time specified in the gas detector manual or, where no time is specified in the manual, 3 seconds per metre (eg BS EN 60079-29-1:2016, section 5.4.15).  The combination of gas detector and sample tube should be considered unsuitable where this time is exceeded.
  • Particularly for spot testing, users should be aware of the response time of the combination of the gas detector and its sample tube.

Source: HSE

Take Our Training Survey

Take Our Training Survey

We would be really interested in your opinion of how health & safety training should be effectively delivered. Traditionally we may have all at one time or another engaged in face to face training and maybe some of us have undertaken distance learning, either to a set timeline or as self paced learning. In a post COVID world, what would your opinion be an how we should effectively deliver training?

Follow our LinkedIn Profile

https://www.linkedin.com/company/occhnet-ltd

Take the survey and let us know…

https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6737423283333009408

Disposing of Face Coverings and PPE used for COVID Secure Measures

Disposing of Face Coverings and PPE used for COVID Secure Measures

If you run a business or organisation

The UK Converment provided guidance on how businesses should dispose of face coverings and PPE that is used in conjuction with your business COVID secure measures.

You should:

  • provide extra bins for your staff and customers to throw away their waste face coverings and PPE used for social distancing, and any other additional waste, such as takeaway packaging and disposable tableware
  • make sure that staff and customers do not put face coverings and PPE in a recycling bin as they cannot be recycled through conventional recycling facilities
  • make sure bins are emptied often so they do not overflow and create litter

You do not need to collect PPE separately but, if you do, you must describe and code your waste correctly.

Ask your waste contractor if there is anything else you need to do.

If your staff are using PPE at work to protect against risks other than coronavirus, they can throw it away in the usual way.

You can put used disposable face coverings and PPE in an ‘offensive waste’ collection (yellow bags with a black stripe), if you have one.

You may be able to use specialist PPE recycling services for some items. Ask your waste contractor.

Source: UK Gov

Disinfecting The Workplace

Disinfecting The Workplace

Disinfecting Premises Using Fog, Mist, Vapour or Ultraviolet (UV) Systems During the Coronavirus Outbreak

The HSE has issued this guidance. It notes that, during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, fog, mist, vapour or UV treatments may be suitable options to help control the spread of the virus, by cleaning and disinfecting a larger space or room. Any use of these treatments for these purposes should form part of the COVID-19 risk assessment. Users must be competent and properly trained.

Selecting the correct treatment will depend on:

  • the size of the area to be treated, its shape and how easily it can be sealed off if delivering an airborne product
  • whether there are hard or soft surfaces – soft furnishings may act as a ‘sink’ for the airborne chemicals and emit them for some time after treatment (it may be possible to remove items such as sofas before treatment)
  • the type of business you have – some areas may be better suited to UV surface treatments than airborne chemicals or vice-versa.

Avoiding harm

Disinfectants applied as a fog, mist or vapour may reach harmful levels during delivery and UV systems may cause eye/skin damage if people enter an area undergoing treatment. Discuss with suppliers what safety features they can provide to prevent inadvertent access to a room during treatment. For example, safety sensors, simply locking rooms during treatment if feasible, or safety signage as part of a safe system of work.

The guidance says:

  • do not spray people with disinfectant
  • do not disinfect large outdoor spaces.

Ensure that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you are using the product safely and effectively. Advice on the law on chemicals is set out.

The guidance goes on to cover sealing off rooms – which is necessary to avoid risk of human exposure to the potentially harmful treatments. Disinfectants may reach harmful levels during delivery and UV systems may cause eye/skin damage if people enter an area undergoing treatment. It suggests that rooms that are very difficult to seal may not be suitable for delivering airborne chemicals.

Source: Barbour 2020

HSE COVID Spot Checks

HSE COVID Spot Checks

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is carrying out spot checks on businesses that have reopened since the UK went into lockdown.

The UK regulator’s inspectors are visiting workplaces across a range of sectors following up any reports or concerns about safety in the workplace including over COVID-19 and ensuring compliance. They are also carrying out proactive checks to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to protect workers from COVID-19.

Between 9 March and 29 June, the HSE received 23,569 COVID-related contacts, of which 7784 were COVID-related concerns, 9944 were COVID-related calls and 5871 were COVID-related advice requests.

Of the 3856 businesses contacted between 26 May and 2 July, 2386 spot checks were carried out by a mixture of phone checks and site visits. The phone checks included obtaining visual evidence such as photos and video footage.

Out of nearly 4000 spot checks, 295 were follow ups to check on issues with cleaning regimes, social distancing as well as failure to engage with the regulator. All but 41 of these were deemed compliant after the second check. The remaining 41 are currently subject to inspector visits and further investigation.

HSE state that ‘Putting dutyholders on the spot, and checking on how they are managing risks, has always been part of our regulatory approach.

‘This has continued to be the case throughout the pandemic. We’ve responded to workplace concerns and are inspecting some workplaces in response. This will continue as more businesses return to work.’ 

Source: IOSH magazine  

Air Conditioning and Ventilation during the COVID-19 outbreak

Air Conditioning and Ventilation during the COVID-19 outbreak

Advice has been published by HSE with regard to Air Conditioning within buildings.

HSE say that the risk of air conditioning spreading coronavirus (COVID-19) in the workplace is extremely low.

It is advised that you can continue using most types of air conditioning system as normal. But, if you use a centralised ventilations system that removes and circulates air to different rooms it is recommended that you turn off recirculation and use a fresh air supply.

You do not need to adjust air conditioning systems that mix some of the extracted air with fresh air and return it to the room as this increases the fresh air ventilation rate. Also, you do not need to adjust systems in individual rooms or portable units as these operate on 100% recirculation.

Source: hse.gov.uk

HSE Proactive Inspections to Resume

HSE Proactive Inspections to Resume

Following the call to return to work, where work cannot be undertaken at home, it was announced by the UK Government that ‘spot inspections’ of workplaces would be undertaken to ensure that COVID-19 safe measures are being adhered to and put in place by employers to ensure the safety of their staff.

Some 4500 complaints with regard to workplace safety, specifically relating to COVID-19, have been received by HSE and it has been reported by SHP that HSE will be resuming their workplace proactive inspections of Construction Sites following an injection of cash from the Government.

Quite when these inspections will begin is a little vague and how soon these inspections will roll out to other manufacturing sectors is as yet unknown, however it will be happening.

Screening Employee’s… What’s your best option?

Screening Employee’s… What’s your best option?

With many workplaces beginning to re-open or have gradual phased return to work the question is which technology, if any, do you use to assess infection in returning staff?

Many companies have opted to use temperature and moreover an abnormal rise in ‘core’ temperature to highlight possible cases of COVID-19.

If you are going to use temperature as a guide then you should be aware of the shortcomings so we’ve used peer reviewed evidence to give you the information you need.

So… what is normal ‘core’ temperature? The reality is, there isn’t one exact “normal” body temperature, so be prepared for a range of “normal”. However, the NHS consider a fever is usually when your body temperature is 37.8 C or higher.

Measurement of core temperature, if you want to be super accurate is best done using pulmonary artery catheterization as it is the reference standard to measure core body temperature, however we would not suggest you use this in the workplace…. “don’t do this at home folks”. Then of course there is the use of rectal and oral thermometers, which moderately correlates to core temperature but is also a tad invasive.

The tympanic (in your ear) infra-red thermometer frequently used in patient care has been shown to correlate with core body temperature and could be self administered to adhere to distancing guidance.

Handheld cutaneous (skin) infra-red thermometer is popularly used to screen large numbers of individuals due to it’s portability and that it does not require contact or cause discomfort to the individual being assessed, however there is little data to support its use.

Among common cutaneous infra-red thermometers evaluated for their ability to measure temperature traceable to the International Temperature Scale of 1990 (ITS-90), the majority performed outside the accuracy range stated by the manufacturers and the medical standard. (Fletcher et al 2018).

The handheld cutaneous infra-red thermometer was less accurate than the tympanic thermometer and other infra-red thermal systems for temperature measurements and fever detection. (Bijur et al, 2016, Lui et al, 2004, Hausfater et al, 2008 and Tay et al 2015).

The study by Tay et al 2015, showed that the handheld infra-red thermometer had a low sensitivity of 29.4% when compared with the oral thermometer to detect fever.

The performance of the hand held cutaneous infra-red thermometer is operator-dependent, as the thermometer is aimed at the temple or forehead, and distance between the thermometer and skin may affect its accuracy. It is not unlikely that sub-optimally trained operators, shying away from close contact with those being screened, hold the thermometer further away than the required proximity and thus compromise its effectiveness.

In a pandemic, a false negative is a false reassurance and a potential future infection cluster (Aw, 2020)

Information taken from The Journal of Hospital Infection.

AW, J. 2020. The non-contact handheld cutaneous infra-red thermometer for fever screening during the COVID-19 global emergency. The Journal of hospital infection, 104, 451-451.

Returning to Work and Risk Assessments

Returning to Work and Risk Assessments

Almost every risk assessment in your workplace may need to be reviewed as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Many organisations will also need to carry out a specific COVID-19 risk assessment.

Careful review of risk assessments will need to decide whether any of the changes put in place as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak will alter the risk rating in your existing risk assessments and if so what else do you need to do?

Identification of those at greater risk from the virus and those employees who may be shielding more vulnerable persons at home is paramount in order to decide whether you need to take further precautions for these employees.

Being able to distance employees through moving their desks 2m apart and staggering breaks, start time, shift patterns etc may be the assessments that are more straight forward to undertake. Assessing the risk of ‘buddy’ work systems and the impact of reduced staff within a manufacturing setting may prove more challenging.

A review of safe systems of work is necessary to determine whether distancing guidance can be observed either when traveling to a job or whilst carrying out a task safely. Other considerations may include whether appropriate control measures and PPE are present, if operators are working abnormal shifts or increased hours leading to fatigue or unfamiliarity with the operation.

When re-deploying staff to unfamiliar tasks has an appropriate training regime been undertaken and how can it be assessed and audited?

If you would like to discuss your individual workplace, or get general advice, then please get in touch via the contact page. We are always happy to help.