Respiratory hazards – Manager Support

We are aiming to eliminate or reduce the amount of exposure to respiratory hazards such as silica, asbestos, lead and welding fumes, amongst others. Respiratory ill health caused by these substances is preventable and although many substance have the potential to harm, if used properly the risk of harm is reduced to the lowest possible level. We need to make sure that the business is meeting The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH).

In your work area you should be aware of every substance that has the potential to cause harm; Sypol (COSHH computer programme) will give you safety data sheets which contain information on each substances composition, safe work methods and first aid measures. These should always be considered when planning work.

A risk assessment should inform you of the respiratory risks and levels of risk. Your local health and safety professional should be able to give you advice and guidance on the risk assessment process and best practices to use to control the risks.

You should know which employees are potentially exposed to respiratory risks, what tasks are involves, the frequency, duration and levels of exposure. With this information you should be have a better understanding of what control measures need to be in place.

Reducing exposure

Reducing exposure can be done in a variety of ways. Remove all unnecessary employees from a hazardous area, e.g. a dusty environment. Consider the use of ventilation systems appropriate to the environment and the tasks being completed. Think about ways of working that reduce exposure to respiratory hazards, even simple measure like working upwind of welding fume are effective. Network Rail already has some control measures in place such as damping ballast with water to reduce the dust levels which are proving effective.

Make sure that your employees are aware of the risks and know what they need to do to control their own exposures.

Respiratory Protection Equipment (RPE)

Some work practices requires respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to be provided to employees in addition to the control measures above.

You should make sure that the equipment provided is adequate for the task they are asked to do. Your health and safety professional can assist in providing information regarding the level of protection needed from the RPE for a particular task. One of the main difficulties with RPE is that it is not always compatible with the PPE needed to be worn. Again health and safety professionals can assist in letting you know what suitable RPE/PPE is currently available.

For certain types of RPE, face fit testing will need to be carried out (by a trained person) to ensure that the RPE fits the employee correctly and gives them the level of protection required. If RPE is to be worn then you must ensure that employees are trained in its use and adhere to instructions such as needing to be clean shaven.

Employee support

If monitoring shows that despite all control measure there is still a potential for employees to be exposed to a respiratory hazards above the threshold set then health surveillance should be undertaken. This is mandatory for those identified and as a manger you are responsible for ensuring attendance. More information about the health surveillance appointment can be found on the employee respiratory hazards page.

If you notice that one of your employees has an ongoing respiratory problem that doesn’t seem to be getting better then you should talk to them about it and make a referral to occupational health.

If you think that an employee has been potentially exposed to a significant level of asbestos then it is recommended that you refer them to occupational health. It is highly unlikely that one exposure will case any serious health issues however the employee is likely to worry. The best way forward is to try and reassure them, take a look at the presentation and factsheet for further information.

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