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Sat 18 Mar 2006 04:00 AM

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PPE standards face industry shake-up

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is facing the ‘standards’ debate as the local construction industry works to improve its image. Zoe Naylor explores how foreign companies are increasing the awareness of using the correct footwear, hard hats and fall arrest equipment.

|~|113prod200.gif|~|Dutco Balfour Beatty Group labourers working at height. The use of PPE is on the increase across the region.|~|The issue of site safety is always high on the agenda, especially in this part of the world where so many construction projects are completed in record time. While some form of edge protection system is generally used on the region’s major construction sites, the lack of knowledge surrounding personal protective equipment (PPE) is still a cause for concern.

According to Adrian Jones, technical and training services manager of Pammenter & Petrie, much of this boils down to a lack of education in the region surrounding the proper usage of PPE. “Most people are looking for the PPE to be to at least the relevant CE (European) standard; however the use, control of use and training in its use is very poor in comparison to the UK,” he says.

Pammenter & Petrie is a UK-based manufacturer of personal protective equipment (PPE). It produces a range of PPE products, including industrial fall protection PPE, PPE for confined space work, rescue equipment designed for confined spaces, and equipment designed to rescue a casualty who may have arrested a fall on fall arrest equipment.

Manufactured in Birmingham in the UK, Pammenter & Petrie also supplies its products to the Dubai market. Jones believes that the main cause for concern with PPE in this part of the world is fall arrest equipment. Despite these systems being extensively and widely used in the region, Jones believes there is a disregard with what happens post-fall.

“To arrest a fall is good, but if we then leave them hanging in a harness for an extended period of time while waiting for rescue, the chances are they are going to die in possibly 15 to 20 minutes from ‘post fall suspension trauma’.”

Another area that Jones feels is lacking is adequate inspection regimes to ensure that the PPE equipment is in good working order. “Very few sites have any inspection regimes in place for fall protection equipment, which is again a mandatory requirement in the UK,” he says.

In a hot and dusty climate such as the Middle East where summer temperatures can easily rise above 500C, the external webbing on PPE is prone to damage from the harsh UV rays. The webbing can also be weakened internally by abrasive damage caused by the ingress of sand and grit. Both of these are considered a major issue in the UK and are believed to have attributed to a fatal accident when a fall arrest lanyard failed to arrest a fall and snapped. “If they are a major issue in the UK, they most certainly should be in Dubai,” adds Jones.

Another vital area of PPE that has historically been overlooked in this part of the world is protective footwear. “If you go back five to 10 years, many workers in the construction sector here actually worked without shoes,” says Johann Clemens, market development manager, ACE/footwear at Huntsman.

“But much of the behaviour is now changing because so many American and European companies are involved in the construction sector here, which means they’re looking after the workers more and making sure they use safety shoes.”

This provides companies such as Hunstman — which supplies the polyurethane used in the soles of protective shoes — with a rapidly expanding sector within the region’s PPE market.
Despite the fact that safety footwear is a new business sector within the region, Clemens says that Huntsman already has a 60% share of the market in the Middle East. “We started production in Oman around two years ago, and from that we now have a production capacity of around 500,000 pairs per year and use approximately 200 tonnes of polyurethane. A few months ago we also started production in Egypt.”

According to Clemens, the footwear market is broken down into various segments — footwear with toecaps, footwear with steel inserts; footwear which is anti-static; and footwear which is insulating. All the products are tailored specifically to individual applications, and the reaction profile of the polyurethane used in the soles will change according to the application. Insulating footwear, for example, is needed if a worker is at risk of touching a cable and coming into contact with electricity.

“Insulating footwear protects against electrical contact. Then there is anti-static footwear — if you touch electricity on top of you or above you, the electricity passes through your body so we have to find a way to get it to the ground.”

This flow of electricity to the ground needs to be slowed down because at its normal speed it is fatal. An anti-static shoe has chemical additives within it that gives the wearer an amount of mega-ohm electrical resistance, which slows the speed of the electricity passing through the body.

Other types of safety footwear that may be used by construction workers include steel-capped boots. A toecap should protect toes against injury from above, while a metal insert in the sole underneath will guard against nails and other sharp objects from coming up through the shoe.

Clemens says that it is important that customers select the most appropriate form of protective footwear according to the application it will be used for — that way, workers’ safety can be maximised. “For example, if you need a safety shoe for the electrical sector, you don’t need a toe cap because there’s nothing falling down and you don’t need the steel insert as there are no nails. But you will need the anti-static protection. “And if you work in the heavy construction market you may not need the anti-static element, but you will need the plate and the toecap.”

PPE is a vital element of on-site safety. Hard hats, protective gloves, fall arrest equipment and safety footwear all serve to
protect workers from the many dangers found on all types of construction projects. However, proper training in the correct usage of equipment, as well as thorough inspection regimes, are also important to make sure construction workers are adequately protected against potential on-site risks.||**||

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