The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) month-long initiative inspecting respiratory risks and occupational lung disease in the construction sector has revealed some workers are confused between RPE and PPE, the regulator has confirmed.
Though the inspection programme, which ran throughout October, examines respiratory risks and occupational lung disease, especially asbestos (outside of licensed contractors), silica and wood dust, inspectors have also been checking whether firms are protecting their workers from the risk of coronavirus and if workplaces are COVID-secure.
'Inspections of this sort are not out of the ordinary for the sector,' said health and safety law expert Sean Elson of law firm Pinsent Masons. 'This is continuing evidence of the drive in relation to occupational health and respiratory conditions in particular. What is interesting is that the HSE as the COVID regulator has flagged that [it] will be using this programme to look at how dutyholders are managing the COVID-19 risk at a project level. The HSE will be keen to show that it is taking action in relation to the pandemic and playing its part in employers taking adequate measures.'
'RPE should be fit for purpose – use the right equipment for the right job'
In response, an HSE spokesperson told IOSH magazine: 'These [respiratory risks] are mature health topics that the industry should now be managing accordingly,' but added: 'This year, we have also included COVID in the initiative as a very current issue for the construction Industry and all inspections include a COVID-19 spot check. Getting COVID controls right is critical to the industry continuing to operate and for people to work safely.'
Overall findings from the inspection initiative show that most construction dutyholders understand and implement COVID-secure arrangements on their sites, the HSE confirmed, with inspectors giving verbal advice, mainly on social distancing and welfare requirements.
'HSE inspectors have reported some workers on site using face coverings meant to stop the spread of COVID being used to protect against exposure to dust. They are keen to make the point that face coverings or disposable face coverings are not RPE and that RPE should be fit for purpose – use the right equipment for the right job,' added the spokesperson.
There were two construction-specific respiratory risk inspection initiatives in 2019 accompanied by awareness raising activity through HSE’s Go Home Healthy campaign, as well as promoting key messages. Those initiatives built on previous work going back several years and engagement with wider industry initiatives such as IOSH's No Time to Lose campaign and the BOHS' Breathe Freely initiative.
The inspection initiative ends today (30th October). The HSE will analyse its findings, including details of overall compliance, actions taken and lessons learned.