Part one of this module was to highlight the research methods needed to carry out a Work Based Research Project. The research used aimed to demonstrate the different types of research methods available, evaluate them and determine the appropriate form of method to use that was relevant to the chosen topic. In carrying out this research procedure various existing literature that gives a clear insight into this topic was analysed and a review of these was written to form a critical and objectional opinion on the subject. The first module enabled me to decide on the appropriate type of research most relevant to the subject chosen. My chosen topic for research was regarding the wearing of Personal Protective Equipment P.P.E. within the steel-fixing industry and the title of this project is; The wearing of light eye protection and gloves for steel fixing – Is it always practical and do the benefits exceed the risks?
Background of the need for this particular subject
Having worked for many years within the steel-fixing industry I have witnessed many changes especially on the larger civil engineering sites. The introduction of gloves and light eye protection is by many an issue that needs to be addressed because by many they are deemed unnecessary, uncomfortable and are just seen as a way of satisfying the main contractors insurance policy needs when tendering for work. With this in mind it was deemed necessary to bring into force new legislation and this was when The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 (PPEW Regulations),were implemented with them taking effect on 1 January 1993. The PPEW Regulations were able to make clear the regulations on the Use of PPE in the Workplace. (www.hse.gov.uk) this new legislation was needed to enforce the wearing of P.P.E. in the workplace and it also highlighted the directives for the new regulations both the employer and employee were expected to adhere to. In section four of the regulations it highlights the duties of the employer to provide suitable P.P.E. for all of their employees said to be ‘at risk’ unless the risk considered to be adequately controlled at source by other means.
If it was deemed necessary for the wearing of certain types of P.P.E. the employers were expected to abide by certain rules when being asked to supply the equipment. It had to be appropriate for the risks involved the work conditions and the place it was being expected to be worn. The health of workers would also need to be considered along with the comfort, efficiency, safety, and ease of use for the workers it needed to be effective in controlling the risks but still had to fall in line with the current EC requirement for P.P.E. .
Although the directives within these new regulations were supposed to be beneficial to employers and employees alike they are still by some considered to being used too generic.
Compatibility was the next issue concerning the new rules. It was alright to supply P.P.E. to the workers but if it was not compatible with other forms of P.P.E. it could compromise the health and safety of said workers. With the shifting tide towards added health and safety more and more products were become available on the market. With the use of eye and hand protection being the subject of this topic a look into the different types of products available has been researched and the findings highlight a very extensive range of products on offer.
Safety goggles have always been an almost daily used piece of protective equipment used in the cutting of steel with abrasive wheels, which is a wheel made of abrasive particles stuck together with various substances. Serious friction burns, crushed fingers and loss of eyesight are common injuries arising from accidents which happen when people are using abrasive wheels due to small shards of the blade disintegrating throughout the cutting process. (www.hseni.gov.uk)
The need to were goggles has always been considered to be a necessity in steel fixing, however with the old types of goggles available and the tendency for them to steam up especially under extremes of heat people would often neglect their duty to were them and ‘take a chance’ without them. Current types of goggles are much better designed to combat this problem. While examining suppliers of protective products it was realized what exactly was on offer, however even following the EU directives cost could be an issue to employers because the need for the appropriate glasses for the type of work being undertaken could lead to higher costs.
Other issues arising seem to be with the wearing of protective eye equipment for those who need prescription glasses. Solutions to this have been found with the introduction of impact resistant safety glasses, this is good for the directly employed but not for the sub-contractor/self-employed as the contractor only supplies the minimum required P.P.E. and with prescription safety glasses potentially costing in excess of thirty pounds (www.protecdirect.co.uk) The contractor seems again reluctant to supply them.
Many suppliers to the construction industry of P.P.E. are plugging the idea of ‘cool’ or ‘designer safety glasses’ (www.elvex.com) which although still made from the product this being a poly-carbonate compound and conforming to EU legislation, the necessity for this type of eyewear is not essential only adding to the cost of already expensive P.P.E. for contractors particularly when purchased in the large quantities they have to especially when servicing some of the bigger contracts.
The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 (PPEW Regulations), state in regulation 6 that an assessment in which P.P.E. is suitable and does not cause risk to the employee in wearing it which if carried out properly would work, but in reality when the health and safety personal still insist on workers wearing eye protection in wet or extreme conditions it could lead to a compromise in the workers safety. It also states that the equipment needed matches the equipment to be supplied and not only the cheapest option available .
Regulation 7 of the(PPEW Regulations), say that every employer shall ensure that any personal protective equipment provided to his employees is maintained (including replaced or cleaned as appropriate) in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair. And that every self-employed person shall ensure that any personal protective equipment provided to him is maintained (including replaced or cleaned as appropriate) in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair (www.opsi.gov.uk).
This works in practice when however employees inform their supervisors of the need for more glasses due to scratched lenses it is often frowned upon leading to the employees sometimes continuing to use inferior equipment a simple solution to this might be to provide some sort of inexpensive carry case to use to help alleviate the problem. The wearing of glasses is fairly straight forward with no real training necessary but employees should be made more aware of the different types of product available to them. (www.opsi.gov.uk)
With the literature researched in the first part of this module coupled with the statistics gathered I thought that the need for the wearing of safety glasses did seem to be apparent however with the aid of case studies and some short informal interviews the pros and cons along with the possible benefits from the wearing of such items should become more obvious. From a personal stand point I think that a slightly less stringent approach could be taken to still adhere to the EU directives. It has to be emphasised that this is only a personal view and that the legislation quoted at the beginning of this essay would need to be adhered to at all times to fulfil the obligation to both the employer and the employee. From the previous developing a work based project assignment I found that statistics showed injuries to hand/arm are the second most common type of injury in the construction industry. Sites now are also adopting a blanket gloves policy to coincide with the wearing of glasses as already fore mentioned the need seems to be apparent but for many workers they still feel that they should have a freedom of choice. After completing the research and having gathered and analysed the various forms of data available It was apparent that the most appropriate methods for gathering of data for this particular subject would be case studies along with some short informal interviews. These methods are particularly relevant because I can draw upon real life case studies I have personally had some dealings with, and with the aid of some short informal interviews with the individuals involved the findings will show whether the wearing of said types of P.P.E. would benefit everyone asked to wear it or whether it should be made more specific to certain types of trades as opposed to a total generic site policy. Also with the gathered information, case studies and the interviews it should show the relevance of the two types of equipment being asked to be worn both from the perspective of the employer and that of the employee.
This first case study being observed concerns the wearing of light eye protection and perhaps reiterates most from the employers point of view the relevance and need to rigorously enforce the wearing of such items.
A Steel fixer I was working with was fixing steel on a large roof slab of a communications building on a well known local American air force base. This type of work is always heavily reinforced with many intricate design issues arising because of the specifications of the contract due to the security and the strength needed to be achieved not only for the longevity of the building but also the need to withstand potential attack from intruders, terrorists etc. Because of this conventional ways of steel fixing do not always apply in that it is sometimes not always possible to fix the steel in the usual way of placing the bottom mat then placing the support chairs then finish with the fixing of the top mat.
That is partly the reason for the occurrence happening in this instance. The procedure for the work to be carried out was in many ways different to the ‘Norm’ in that in this particular case the top mat of the slab had to be fixed before the bottom mat was slid into position though a design called blast links (a common design on sensitive air base projects). The steel fixer in question needed to access the underside of the top mat reinforcing to place these links prior to the fixing of the bottom mat reinforcing, he did this and by wearing his safety helmet thought the risks of injury would be minimised by. Whilst inside he was carrying out his duties safely as he thought for sometime but he failed to notice a previously fixed cranked bar protruding into the underside of the roof slab and on reaching out to obtain some more links to place he turned sharply with the result being that he turned directly onto the fore mentioned T25 mm piece of previously placed reinforcing.
The consequences of the steel fixers actions resulted in a visit to the local hospital to undergo some quite lengthy examinations on his eye and it was discovered that he had pushed the eye ball back into his socket with the resulting injury being the focal muscles in the back of his eye along with the eye socket itself were both extremely badly bruised which resulted with the steel fixer having to wear dark glasses for some time afterwards to help with the sensitivity of the injured eye. Another complication from the injury was that reasonably shortly afterwards the steel fixer in question was on visiting the optician prescribed glasses, and although it was never proved for sure it was said that it was a possibility that it could have been a major contributory factor.
On speaking to the said steel fixer I asked him in view of what had happened to him did he think that the wearing of glasses should be mandatory across all trades within Civil Engineering and Construction or did he think it should be for specific trades such as those using wet products like concrete or hazardous substances. The feedback I obtained was that in this instance the wearing of light eye protection would have stopped the injury and alleviated the discomfort he suffered after the accident. He did make the point that at the time of the accident light eye protection was not so readily available and it was the duty of the contractor to only supply protective goggles for cutting and grinding. Also the types of products available were not of the same quality that now seem to be more common place so even if the choice was there to wear protection he probably would not have because they were uncomfortable and because of the confined situation he was in they would have been not appropriate because they would have kept misting up.
Another issue that was raised was the fact that a proper risk assessment should have been carried out and if it was it may have been able to have stopped the incident occurring by placing some form of protection onto the ends of the bars in the first place.
End of Rebar protection
Although my original research project was to look at the wearing of gloves and light eye protection after talking to the steel fixer in question I decided to look at the possible solution to end of Re-bar protection also. I found many types of products available for the protection of the ends of Re-bar with the most popular form seeming to be the end cap type.
This type of design protects the user from scratches but on further investigation I was to find out that to protect workers from impalement a different product is required not always realised by both the workers and the contractor. I was to look at a system called The Carnie Cap System which was specifically designed for the purpose of impalement protection.
It can withstand a 250 pound weight dropped from 10 feet without the rebar protruding and is also less expensive than troughs. In fact, only two Carnie Caps are needed per each eight foot section. Making it quick and easy to install. (www.carniecap.com)
Wire hazards in steel fixing
The case study I have just highlighted has just raise one issue with regards to steel fixers walking into protruding objects but another problem is flying end on the tie wire used to tie the re-bar into position.
Dragging lengths of tying wire around while tying rebar is hazardous to steel fixers and those working around them. The steel fixer has one end of wire in his hand and under control, but the other end is free to fly around, being the “flying end”. The wire end snags easily and the natural reaction is to give it a tug. The result is a razor sharp wire end travelling at high speed towards the steel fixer with the potential to cause serious face or eye injuries and in some cases, complete eye loss.
A product I found that could protect against a situation like this is system called reel-fix Rapid Reel which is a lightweight, refillable wire dispensing unit designed to be worn in conjunction with the Reel fix belt and comfort pad. ( www.reelfix.com) In using this product one end of the tie wire is clipped into the reel using a refill spool thus eliminating the flying end scenario making it less likely to obtain the serious type of injury shown above.
Working on a major project in East London we were given a comprehensive induction in which we were informed that the wearing of gloves and glasses were mandatory, and that any person caught without these items would be given a yellow card. A second offence would be another yellow card resulting in expulsion from site. After receiving this information most of the workers adhered to this policy not wanting to be dismissed for something as trivial as not wearing gloves or glasses.
One particular colleague chose to ignore the instructions given and carry on fixing steel without gloves on “I’ll put them in my pocket and if anybody turns up then I will put them on” was his attitude. He was carrying out a task on an abutment wall when his accident happened.
On completion of the abutment wall being fixed it was his job to fix some bars required into the wall to hold the wall at the desired spacing prior to concreting, he was placing the necessary bars into place and was not giving full attention to what he was doing, spending time talking to the other trades as he was carrying out his own duties, which every trades man working is probably guilty of having carried out these sort of tasks many times over. This particular day was to be very unfortunate for the steel fixer in question because as he was sliding the second from last bar into place he took his eye off what he was doing and ran the fleshy part of his thumb on the inside of his hand along a tie that was holding the main wall bars in place.
The result of his actions was quite a severe cut to his right hand and this was also the hand he used for his end cutters. Because of the severity of the incident he was taken to the site nurse who cleaned and covered the cut and sent him to hospital where he was to have seven stitches to his hand and because of this being the hand he used for he used for his end cutters it resulted in him having to have two weeks off work until the stitches were removed losing him quite a substantial amount of money as he had been working twelve hour shifts and seven days a week for an extremely busy part of the contract. The man had to return to site briefly to fill an accident report for the incident to also be told he was being given an official warning for not wearing the P.P.E. he was instructed to as stipulated in the site induction.
I spoke with the individual about what had happened and asked if he would now reconsider as to whether he would be wearing gloves in the future or not but he just illustrated that it was an occupational hazard of steel fixing and he would still rather not wear them given the choice. When I made him aware of the different types of gloves available and to the fact you can now obtain The Sperian (www.sba.co.uk) cut resistant gloves for use in steel fixing he did agree that there could be a use for these but he would still choose not to wear them given the choice as he still finds them cumbersome and in the warmer weather they make the hands overheat when worn for long periods.
As a supervisor I had to have some dealings with the main contractor over the incident that had occurred and they stressed that it was part of my duty to make sure the men were wearing the correct P.P.E. I agreed to this but did stress the views from the men about the quality of the products on offer to which I was told that they would supply the basic minimum P.P.E. and that if the men wanted any other type of equipment then they would have to supply their own as the main contractor was not prepared to carry the cost of this.
With the research complete and the information gathered in the form of case studies/interviews it was clear that there did seem to be a strong need for the wearing of the fore mentioned equipment, it did also become clear that as the project develop however that the research needed to be on going not only because new products are becoming more readily available all the time with regards to the chosen topic but of the constant changing regulations on Health and Safety and the policies the main contractors need to put into place to satisfy their insurers that they are doing their upmost for the health and safety of their employees when tendering for contracts. Another conclusion drawn from the project was that until a case study was carried out the findings and recommendations were mainly of my opinion but with the case studies/interviews complete it drew on the experiences of others who had their own ideas having been the victims of the events highlighted.
Having completed the Work Based Project I was able to draw some interesting conclusions from it. I found that the research I had previously carried out in the developing a research assignment gave me the opportunity to gather some good relevant information to co-inside with the work based project, it was however only the beginnings of the project and I found that through observing the case studies and from gathering information from the short informal interviews I gave it was to broaden the scope of the research. The attitude towards the wearing of gloves and light eye protection also seems to be changing from not only the employers perspective but also from the employees stand. When something new is introduced it always takes time for people to recognise the benefits and to adjust to the new system, people get set in their ways and find it not only hard to adapt but also do not see the reasons or benefits they may gain from this. It has been a general opinion for a long time that the reason the main contractors want us to wear the fore mentioned P.P.E. is only to fulfil the obligation to their insurers and that if they do not put these measures into place then they will not be able to tender for contracts. Although this is partly true it has to be recognised that these companies are a business and as so they have to move with an ever changing construction environment to succeed. The representatives on site are just that, with the decisions over these matters being made from much higher authorities with the employees sometimes neglecting this fact leading people on site feeling that they are being persecuted and that they are having their freedom of choice taken from them.
With the case studies highlighted and the other information I have gathered I think that there is a definite need for the wearing of gloves and light eye protection with the benefits definitely exceeding the risks it will however take time to adjust to the new procedures and an alliance between the main contractors and their workers could be put into place to aid communication in these matters to stop the workers feeling potentially alienated in these matters.