Christopher Clark, SHE Advisor at Morgan Sindall Group, looks at how the vehicle recycling industry can learn more from the Construction Industry’s approach to health and safety to further improve their workers’ well-being.
Most organisations wouldn’t function without the knowledge, skills and experience of the people that work for them. Our people are so important to us that we must priorities their safety and health above all else and not out of fear of reprisal from the regulator but from a moral duty to protect everyone we work with. Worker health can often be overlooked in organisations as the risks can sometimes be hidden or do not manifest until later in life.
In the UK in 2020, there were over 12,000 reported lung cancer deaths relating to past workplace exposure1. This risk is ever-present in the End-of-Life Vehicle (ELV) depollution industry, and it is essential to continue to manage this risk within the industry as a change in focus towards the hazards and risks of electric vehicles start to present itself.
A key area of focus from organisations should be the reclassification of welding fume as a carcinogen. This means that it is not acceptable that any form of welding can be undertaken without suitable exposure control measures in place, as there is no known level of safe exposure. The use of Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) at the point of release should be utilised as well as wearing appropriate respiratory protective equipment (RPE) when indoors, and when outdoors, RPE must still be utilised.
The construction industry quickly adapted to this change and have mandated the use of air fed respirators and welding hoods with the appropriate filtration to protect against harmful particulates, dusts, and vapours. These levels of control have also been applied to grinding, oxy-gas cutting and plasma cutting to ensure a consistent approach to the creation of harmful particulates and fumes being maintained across all construction activities. A participatory approach from the ground up can help the industry innovate and develop new ways to work to prevent these hazards and risk manifesting. By learning from the difficult lessons that other industries have been hurt by can reduce the learning curve for others and prevent further loss across the U.K.
The ELV depollution industry should focus on eliminating welding and cutting activities or reducing the risk to employees by applying the hierarchy of control and ensuring the focus is not solely on the betterment of RPE and personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect workers.
When depolluting ELVs, the recovery of fuel and oils is an essential activity; however, it presents various risks to employee health during recovery. Where some organisations have prioritised the use of standard equipment, there are still instances of homemade tools being used that can result in exposure to harmful chemicals. A frequent image is that of employees having exposed areas of skin during the recovery process which leaves them susceptible to dermatitis and its long term and short-term effects. The construction industry has for a long time had an issue with allergic contact dermatitis due to prolonged and repeated exposure, and a study by the HSE suggested that it could affect up to 10% of the construction industry in the UK2. The industry has attempted to tackle this issue through the application of the hierarchy of control and by targeting the exposure pathway through the use of better technologies, adapting new ways and as a final resort improving the PPE and RPE that the concrete workers use.
The same principles should be applied when dealing with ELVs. By asking, how can we improve the way we extract the oils, lubricants, and fuels? The answer will invariably be by applying better technology and way of working, and the majority of the time, the best people to help us innovate and change are those doing the job every day.
The importance of improving worker health in the UK is paramount, and as more people die each year from occupational health diseases than safety incidents, then surely it is time for organisations to refocus their efforts in providing appropriate exposure control to the hazards their workers are being subjected to. The ELV depollution industry is an ever-changing environment with new hazards to employees from electric and hybrid vehicles, however, as there is a focus on these, let’s not forget the existing risks that will continue to persist in the industry and that we will continue to face.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana
Disclaimer – the information and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of their employer, professional body or ATF Professional.
If you would like to know more about prioritising the health and safety of your workforce, please contact Christopher via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, please visit the breathe freely campaign from The British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) at breathefreely.org.uk
1 Health and Safety Executive, HSE (2020). Occupational Lung Disease statistics in Great Britain, 2020. Available at: https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/respiratory-diseases.pdf
2 Health and Safety Executive, HSE (2002). Construction Information Sheet No 26 (revision2) – Cement. Available at: https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/cis26.pdf