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Hazardous heels and cumbersome clothing

1st Jun 2017
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Is your workplace dress code putting you at risk?

In recent months, the controversy surrounding the 'high heels row' has culminated in a petition for a ban on requiring women to wear high heels at work.

The petition committee found that hundreds of women suffer from pain caused by wearing high heels for long periods, with Labour Party MP Gill Furniss sharing that her own daughter had suffered a metatarsal fracture from having to wear high heels in a retail job.

However, statistically, it is not only unsuitable footwear which can cause injury in the workplace. Many occupations across the UK, from the construction industry to the manufacturing sector, can be hazardous for employees. With around 9,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) related accidents being reported each year, the correct use of PPE is of paramount importance to ensure safety in the workplace.

Although the appropriate PPE can vary across different roles, this can include:-

  • Safety helmets
  • Gloves
  • Eye protection
  • High-visibility clothing
  • Safety footwear
  • Safety harnesses
  • Respiratory protective equipment (RPE)

Failing to wear the correct PPE can have grave consequences. Whilst the rate of non-fatal injury to employees reported by employers fell in 2015-2016, a research report carried out by the Health and Safety Executive found that around £96m of the £252m annual costs of PPE-related incidents could have been mitigated or indeed prevented by the PPE provided.

According to specialist employer liability lawyers, Freeclaim Solicitors, the use of the correct PPE plays a pivotal role in avoiding unnecessary accidents at work.

"We have acted for many clients who have suffered serious personal injuries following accidents at work whereby the inadequacy of the PPE provided or indeed the absence of PPE altogether was the main cause of injury."

Although it is the responsibility of an employer to provide the sufficient PPE, Ian Samson of PPE specialists DuPont Personal Protection, recognises that how you put on your PPE is as significant as wearing it.

What few people realise, suggests Samson, is that the way they put on their PPE "can severely limit its ability to protect them and may even expose them to extra hazards. The PPE provided by an employer must also be the right size for the individual."

"PPE wearers often rush to put on any garment and start work, but they must be trained not to assume that they have received items in their size. If a worker puts on a coverall that's too small, it will restrict their movement, but they also risk ripping the fabric (especially at the crutch and under the arm), reducing the protection. If it's too large, the excess fabric can catch on moving parts, and loose material wrinkling round the ankle also creates a trip hazard."

The correct removal of PPE is also vital, he adds. "Removing contaminated workwear carelessly can expose the wearer to exactly the hazards they put the equipment on to avoid, especially if they are changing in an enclosed space. Depending on the type of hazardous material, the risks range from slight skin or throat irritation, through dermatitis or asthma to skin cancer or mesothelioma."

The significance of using the correct PPE in the appropriate manner should therefore not be underestimated. Whilst the use of PPE appears to be a relatively small step, it is one which could potentially mean the difference between a fatal and non-fatal accident at work.

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