Playing it safe

Have the lockdown and resulting social distancing measures had a positive effect on safety in the workplace? We talk to Bohle’s Dave Broxton.

As lockdown restrictions in the UK were eased during May and June 2020, attention turned to workplaces to see how life could return to normal while complying with new social distancing guidelines.

Office work was straightforward to manage: employees were encouraged to work from home where possible. For factories, warehouses and distribution, there was no getting away from the fact that some people need to be in certain places at certain times.

While keeping people apart from each other is fairly straightforward where there are regular repeated procedures, this can throw up a number of other challenges.

“The health and safety of your workforce is the absolute number one priority for any employer,” Bohle’s managing director Dave Broxton said. “They not only have a legal obligation to look after their employees, but every manager I’ve ever spoken to recognises the moral duty of providing a safe place to work.

“Which is why redesigning procedures to comply with new social distancing requirements is causing many to scratch their heads.”

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 require employers to avoid, assess and reduce the risk of injury from manual handling. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) explains that it is the employer’s duty to constantly asses the working conditions and ability of employees to carry out certain tasks.

“If your workforce is more distanced, and operating differently compared to how they’re used to, new risks may go unnoticed,” Dave said. “The focus should be on getting the fundamentals absolutely right from the outset, which is achieved with the right equipment.”

According to the HSE, workplaces have become safer year on year. Both the Labour Force Survey and Riddor (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) have shown declines in reported accidents over the last 30 years.

The figures remain, however, stubbornly high. During 2018/19, there were 69,208 injuries reported under Riddor, of which 20% were due to accidents involving handling, lifting or carrying.

“This is a very conservative figure,” Dave said. “Generally, Riddor requires employers to report non-fatal injuries that result in more than seven days absence from work, or specified on a pre-defined list of injuries. The HSE itself has said that employers substantially under-report these non-fatal injuries – maybe up again by as much as half.

“We all need to take every precaution we can to make workplaces safe, especially as we ease lockdown restrictions.”

Furthermore, employers have a duty under the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 to ensure that all equipment has been tested and their limitations clearly marked.

“An inappropriate piece of equipment is as bad, if not worse, as no equipment at all,” Dave said, explaining that Bohle’s range of Veribor suction lifters are at the forefront of manual handling technology. Designed and manufactured in-house, they have been refined over decades to make the manual handling of glass safer.

This includes testing by TÜV, and the subsequent accreditation (the TÜV GS mark) is an independent guarantee of performance. It also means all Veribor products meet the stringent quality and safety requirements set out in the German Product Safety Act, which is recognised internationally as setting the benchmark in safety testing.

Bohle suction lifters are also designed to have a minimum 2:1 safety margin to reflect real world usage.

The Veribor blue line pump-activated suction lifter, for example, is designed to support the safe manual handling of glass, stoneware and metal. The 601.1BL has a parallel load capacity of up to 120kg and features a high visibility pressure gauge, which gives a clear indication of the strength of the vacuum and suitability for lifting, since any sudden loss of pressure could lead to injury.

“This function is especially important when objects or materials with slightly porous or textured surfaces are transported, because here the vacuum diminishes more quickly than with airtight surfaces,” Dave said.

Particularly useful for people working alone is the LiftMaster B1 manual lifting device, which is compact and can handle weights of up to 180kg. Designed to be used with or without an electric pump, it delivers exceptional versatility, while a dual circuit vacuum system, reserve tanks, vacuum display and secondary vacuum indicator ensure that it guarantees the highest levels of safety.

“Available separately, the BO B18DM4 lifting frame fitted to the LiftMaster B1 can be detached and crane mounted, offering tremendous versatility in the workshop,” Dave said.

“It’s also highly manoeuvrable, featuring a tiltable rack and a rotating frame, which makes it ideal for unloading or loading glass from racking, transport or processing, plus a host of other uses.”

The LiftMaster B1 also provides an on-site solution, packing down to fit inside an estate car. “It’s a particularly useful feature for anyone charged with moving and fitting large units on site,” Dave said, “especially if they are on their own.”

He continued: “We know that companies were showing increased interest in this type of equipment from our involvement at the FIT Show in May 2019. This is only going to increase as people work apart from each other, and are discouraged from sharing tools.”

Employers also have a duty under the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 to provide wrist cuffs for people handling glass.

“It is possibly an overlooked area of safety, but as glass processing becomes more automated, we forget the simple measures employers can take to protect their staff,” Dave said.

Bohle supplies a range of wrist protectors with levels of protection that reflect the exposure to risk faced by employees.

“It’s a small safety measure, but an obvious one if you are working with glass all day,” Dave said, “especially as people are increasingly working alone, and monitoring their own environment.”

As the UK eases itself back into work, region by region, this increased focus on the workplace may have unintended positive consequences, according to Dave.

“The true figures for workplace accidents involving manual handling may never be fully understood,” he said, “but as employers take a closer look at how their workforce operates we may start to see an uptick in equipment use that ultimately improves the safety of their employees.”