Has the Pandemic Added a Sixth Step to Traditional Construction Protective Wear?

PPE has and will always be an absolute must for keeping workers in construction safe, but the pandemic is bringing new challenges to the industry every week.

The latest government announcement has left many workplaces torn as to whether they should be working from home or not. They have been told they can stay if they are COVID-compliant. Becoming COVID-compliant has certainly proved to be a challenge for many businesses, but for construction sites, intensified regulations and PPE are nothing new.

PPE has and will always be an absolute must for keeping workers in construction safe, but the pandemic is bringing new challenges to the industry every week.

Here is some advice from Lemon.co.uk about everything you need to consider to be compliant and keep construction workers safe over the coming months.

Understand the legislation

Before making any changes, employers need to create a risk system which assesses every risk and outlines a detailed PPE plan. Without this, you will not provide your employers with clear guidance and be consistent. The legislation may take time to understand and comprehend, but you need to make sure to include the compulsory regulations set out by the government. As new rules are being enforced frequently, you need to ensure you keep yourself informed of any law which will affect your business. As it stands, the most notable regulations for construction sites are that social distancing should still be adhered to, and face masks should be worn where social distancing cannot be avoided.

Introduce a sixth point

As a general rule, the construction industry has followed a basic 5-point PPE system. This generally includes: hard hats, high-vis clothing, protective boots, eye protection and hand protection (suitable gloves). As the pandemic has continued to take its toll on the industry, it has brought a sixth point to this list and which will consist of respirators or face masks.

Despite face masks being used already in some scenarios on construction sites, face masks were not mandatory for general tasks. We’re expecting to see these 6 points become the new norm for construction sites, regardless of when the restrictions are relaxed.

Mask Types

There is much confusion around what type of masks should be worn by those working in construction, and understandably so. There are generally two types: respirators (PPE), such as FFP1/FFP2/FFP3 etc., and face masks (non-PPE). In simpler terms, a respirator will stop any harmful particles from entering your lungs and protects the wearer. Face masks will prevent any harmful substances from coming out, thus protecting those around the wearer. At first glance, you might think this will be the main assessment that is carried out at the start of a risk assessment, but there are also other factors. These types of masks may or may not be protective against other hazardous products faced by the wearer such as asbestos or silica dusts, thus the need for a PPE risk assessment at the start.

Educate workers

Many workplace injuries are related to the fact that generally speaking, there is a lack of acknowledgment around rules and regulations. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, only 16% of workers who sustain serious head injuries were wearing hard hats and 1% who sustained serious face injuries were wearing face protection.

Whilst it was not compulsory for workers to wear face protection during the time of injuries, it was in the case of hard hats, thus highlighting the difficulty businesses face in enforcing PPE regulations. This is something that needs to be addressed when it comes to making workplaces COVID-compliant. Employers need to educate their teams on the importance of PPE, the new guidelines in place and how to properly adhere to them.

Address Bravado

The lack of acknowledgement of the PPE regulations isn’t entirely down to a lack of understanding. Often in the construction industry there is a culture of “laddish” behaviour, that brings a lot of bravado onto the site. Having to wear a mask or other kinds of PPE may be seen as a weakness or going against the alpha male culture.

Through education, attitude and leading by example, this is something else that employers should address with staff – showing employees that it’s not showing weakness to protect yourself is key. 

Consider the risk

Social distancing is difficult enough to follow in shops and highstreets, but it’s intensified further on construction sites. Often, it is not always possible to socially distance, such as colleagues needing to be in close proximity when using a piece of equipment or carrying heavy items. However, that. only occurs in certain instances, meaning for the most part of the working day, it can be enforced and adhered to. This should all be carried out in the risk assessment before returning to work to prevent any social distancing violations.

Introducing PPE in all workforces has been difficult and still poses issues to many industries today. However, it is crucial that workers are kept safe and their voices are prioritised, not just living through the pandemic but moving forward also. Lemon believes the pandemic will highlight the importance of PPE on sites for the better and ensure a safer environment for workers moving forward, even once the pandemic has passed.

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