A breath of fresh air


If fresh clean non-polluted air is the elixir of life, why is it that we have to have laws to make us responsible for the health of those we employ? man-in-hazmat-suit-with-asbestos-sign-002

Recently I was asked to visit a small business that manufactured and installed kitchen bench tops to discuss their future health and safety (H&S) requirements.

No H&S systems were available and the business owner had very few management systems in place.

But he was receiving enquiries from his key clients stating if he wanted to continue to supply them he would have to have H&S systems in place. His insurance broker had also asked him to address the issue.

After getting over the initial introductions and hearing his opinion that H&S was nothing more than common sense and that he had never had an accident, we got down to business.

During my observations, I noticed an employee approach the glue spraying booth, pick up a respirator off the work bench, put it on and proceed to spray adhesive onto the laminate.

When I asked the business owner if that was the normal process he nodded – was anything wrong with the way they did the spraying?

Here’s how my discussion with him went:

Q: How often is the spray booth used during the day?

A: Continually by all the staff, including myself.

Q: Where is the extraction system turned on and by whom?

A: We don’t have one as it’s too expensive to install.

Q: Do you carry out annual medical checks for your employees?

A: No, do we have to?

I then proceeded to explain why this had to happen – especially with the exposure that he and his employees had to highly toxic solvent-based glues.

Q:  Have you trained your staff in the safe use and application of the glues according to the Glues material safety data sheet? (MSDS)

A: What’s an MSDS?

Another explanation followed.

I then picked up the respirator and asked:

Q: Do all the employees use this respirator?

A: Yes, what’s the problem – they only use for a few minutes at a time?

I then proceeded to fold back the latex face mask and show him the sweat, spittle, MDF dust, fungus and other nasties trapped inside.

Q: Do you also use this?

A: Not any longer. I see what you mean but the cost of buying a respirator for each employee would be expensive – I can’t afford to do it.

A: You can’t afford not to.

Q: What do you mean?

A: If one of your employees came to work with the flu or a chest infection or worse, and he and all the other staff used the respirator what could potentially happen?

A: I suppose there would be the risk of all the staff and even myself contracting the flu.

Q: What financial impact would that have your business if all of you were off work for 3-5 days – let alone your clients and your business reputation?

I then reminded him of his legal obligation under the Health and Safety at Work Act to manage and to monitor the health and safety of his employees.

Q: How often do you clean the respirator or change the filters?

A: Never, I have never really thought about it. It sounds like I do have an H&S issue – how do I fix it?

Sound familiar – then here’s a suggested action plan:

Ask your glue supplier to send you the latest copy of the MSDS.

  1. Discuss the MSDS information with your employees, especially the use of PPE and the emergency procedures.
  2. Have an extraction system installed in the spray booth to remove any surplus glue spray in a controlled manner.
  3. Consult with a specialist supplier and purchase a respirator for each employee.
  4. Ask the supplier to train your employees in the safe use, cleaning and replacement of the filters.
  5. Purchase four plastic snap lock containers, put their names on them and mount them on the wall near the spray booth.
  6. When not in use: the respirators must be:
  • clean the respirator after use and or on a weekly basis with sanitising wipes
  • place it in a zip lock plastic bag
  • store it in a snap lock plastic container
  • read the manufacturer’s instructions as some filters can work 24/7 when exposed to the air
  • change the filters on a scheduled basis.

Lastly, identify and engage a qualified occupational health nurse to undertake health monitoring assessments for yourself and your employees.Gordon Anderson is the managing director of Hasmate Ltd, which offers web-based compliance and risk management programmes across New Zealand.