As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread across the world one unfortunate consequence is that respiratory protective equipment (RPE) has become less readily available. Companies are now looking at alternative ways to protect their workers from workplace dust including alternate supplies of masks as well as changes to working conditions to minimise exposure.
Below are some points to consider when looking at implementing either of these approaches.
Alternate Mask Supply
With global shortages of FFP2/N95 masks and countries prioritising supplies for frontline health workers industrial users are looking elsewhere to source masks.
In order to ensure proper levels of protection are maintained any masks used should be correctly certified with CE marking from an authorised notified body. When looking at a CE Certificate there are several points to check.
- Does the certificate say CE certificate and not certificate of compliance/conformity?
- Is the certificate issuer listed on the EU website for authorised notified bodies?
- Does the certificate show up on the companies online checker if they have one available?
- If no online checker is available do the address and website/contact details match the details listed on the EU database or the companies own website?
If there is any doubt about the certificate the issuing body should be contacted for confirmation of authenticity.
When masks are delivered to site a visual inspection should be undertaken before use, the BOHS have produced a very useful visual guide on what to look for to confirm CE marking on individual masks which can be downloaded here: http://www.bohs.org/covid-hub-technical-information/
Changes to working practices
As workplaces across Europe begin to reopen and different ways of working are implemented to minimise the risk of Covid-19 infection, some of these measures may also result in a reduction of dust exposure in the workplace. Any changes to working practices should be considered and reviewed using appropriate risk assessment procedure to assess impact on workplace dust exposure.
Examples of measures that may lead to a reduction in dust exposure include:
- More vigorous and frequent workplace cleaning will prevent dust build up
- Reduced workforce numbers and social distancing will potentially reduce dust generation particularly where manual finishing and packing workstations are separated or reduced in numbers.
- Additional measures such as improved segregation with the use of plastic shielding between workstations and reduced working hours may also reduce a workers overall exposure.
If it can be demonstrated that exposure to dust has reduced significantly below any applicable OEL’s, it may be possible to allow the workers to perform certain tasks of short duration (e.g. walking through a plant) without using RPE to ensure it remains available for workers who require it.
Before making any changes to RPE policy a risk assessment review should be undertaken and if there are any doubts a qualified Occupational Hygienist should be consulted.