Avoid risk in the workplace by staying aware of ‘invisible’ health hazards

Health hazards in the metal industry are sometimes overlooked as workers are focused on the more visible dangers, such as heavy machinery and forklift trucks. While it is essential that people pay attention to these risks, it is just as important that the invisible hazards are not ignored as they can cause long-lasting damage. Recent campaigns have highlighted the need for employers to concentrate on the ‘health’ part of ‘health and safety’ to avoid long-term health effects caused at work, an initiative whole-heartedly supported by 3M. This focus follows recent statistics which have revealed that while the number of workplace fatal injuries is at their lowest in 20 years, the number of health problems caused at work in the UK is on the rise!

Two of the most common health hazards in the metal industry are respiratory problems and noise-induced hearing loss – areas where people do not tend to realise any harm is taking place until it is too late. Each year in the UK approximately 13,000 deaths occur due to occupational respiratory diseases2. In addition, there are 10,000 estimated new cases of breathing or lung problems caused or made worse by work3. 

Respiratory illness in the metal industry is often caused through inhalation of fumes, which are likely to be invisible to the naked eye.

Exposure to these fumes can result in a variety of serious illnesses, such as pneumonia, occupa-tional asthma, cancers, irritation of throat and lungs and temporarily reduced lung function. Worryingly, the signs and symptoms of these diseases may not become apparent for years, at which point the problem may be irreversible.

However, the risk of respiratory harm can be minimised if the right control measures are put in place. Companies need to identify and measure potential respiratory hazards in the workplace to select the right health and safety strategy. When the risk cannot be reduced by other means, respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is required. RPE is available in many forms including dispos-able respirators, reusable masks and powered air devices. Not only do workers need to be aware of respiratory harm, they also need to be conscious of dangers posed by loud noises. Due to the nature of the work, the metal processing industry can be extremely noisy and exposure to harmful levels of noise in the workplace can lead to
health problems such as noise-induced hearing loss or tinnitus.

Currently more than 17,000 people in the UK suffer from deafness or tinnitus because of workplace noise, but this can be completely prevented4. Using the appropriate hearing protection correctly can stop noise-induced hearing loss.

Employers need to first consider if the noise level can be eliminated by altering the task at hand. If this is not possible, introducing hearing protective equipment (HPE), such as ear defenders, can help bring noise to a safe level. When deciding on RPE and HPE, employers need to ensure they select the correct equipment. If not, it can offer little or no protection. Turning to reputable manufacturers, like 3M, will help to ensure the correct products are being used. For both RPE and HPE, 3M also offer a fit testing service to make sure the product is able to offer each user an appropriate level of protection.

To find out more about Invisible Hazards in the Metal Industry, join one of Simon Field’s seminars taking place at the Surface World Show on 23rd and 24th September 2015.

For more information about 3M and its range of PPE please visit www.3M.co.uk/safety 3M and 3M Science. Applied to Life. are trademarks of 3M Company.

About 3M

At 3M, we apply science in collaborative ways to improve lives daily. With $32 billion in sales, our 90,000 employees connect with customers all around the world. The UK and Ireland is home to one of the largest 3M subsidiaries outside the USA, employing 3,000 people across 17 locations, including nine manufacturing sites.

Products manufactured in the UK include coated abrasives, personal safety equipment, adhesive tapes, industrial microbiology products, drug delivery systems, high-performance coatings and imaging systems.

Learn more about 3M's creative solutions to the world's problems at www.3M.co.uk or follow @3M_UK on Twitter.

1 - http://www.healthandsafetyweek.com/news/2015/1/30/what-is-health-and-safety-week
2 - http://www.hse.gov.uk/Statistics/causdis/index.htm
3 - http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/respiratory-diseases.htm
4 - HSE A Recipe For Safety 2015 p49