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Essential safety equipment

Date posted: 27 July 2015

Building work carries a whole host of risks, and it is vital to make health and safety a key consideration in every stage of your construction project – regardless of its scale or complexity.

Every site must have one individual officially appointed to deal with safety issues. If you have chosen to hire a principal contractor or package builder to undertake the work, you are exempt from legal responsibility for health and safety – but it is still worth familiarising yourself with site safety requirements so that you can keep an eye on operations – and avoid the potential ordeal and costs of any accidents.

Some of the leading causes of accidents that lead to injury claims include slips, trips, falls from a height, and crushing accidents. Perhaps surprisingly, accidents resulting from the use of power tools and equipment account for far fewer claims. It is still essential, however, to make sure you buy or hire the right tools and equipment for the job – so that they are fit for purpose and in a good condition.  Always read the safety and operating instructions, and only use equipment you feel confident handling.

There are some basic items of safety gear that can help to protect everyone working on site from suffering many of the most common injuries:

Suitable work clothes

On site clothing needs to combine comfort with practicality, allowing you to focus on the job and stay safe.

Lightweight, preferably breathable fabric clothing that also offers some protection from the rain will help to keep you comfortable. Features such as zipped pockets and tool loops can also be very practical.

Over the top of these basic clothes, a hi-vis jacket (or hi-vis vest in the summer) is a bare essential.

Tough work boots

While heavy, steel-capped work boots offer great protection for your toes from hard blows, they often take some time to 'wear in' and can be tiring to wear throughout the day. A lighter weight alternative is the new generation of site 'hiker boots' or trainers which still offer steel-capped toes, shock absorption and protective soles, but are less tiring to wear.

Eye protection

If your site is dusty or if there is an risk of debris flying into your eyes, such as during demolition work, it is important to wear safety goggles.

Ear protection

Exposure to the loud noise generated on site by machinery and tools can cause permanent damage to your hearing if you do not use ear protection. Wear ear defenders whenever you are operating noisy equipment, and bear in mind that with this type of work gear you often get what you pay for. If you can spend a bit more you will enjoy a higher level of comfort and flexibility from features such as superior cushioning – which over the course of the day will make a significant difference to your overall comfort. Modern ear defenders incorporate clever technology that filters out equipment noise but still enables you to hear some speech, helping to aid site communications.

It is also worth having a box of ear plugs on site for anyone who is not actually operating noisy equipment but is working nearby.

Head protection

A comfortable hard hat is another essential item. If you are going to be on site a lot and therefore wearing a hard hat for long periods, look out for features that will offer great comfort – such as a cushioning headband; a six-point harness instead of a four-point one, as this will offer a superior fit; and an integral rain channel to prevent rain dripping down your neck.

Knee pads

Simple knee pads can make a significant difference to your comfort levels when you need to work on the ground. If you are going to be using these a lot, it is worth looking at trousers that incorporate handy pockets on the knees – into which the pads can be inserted.

Lung protection

Many tool manufacturers have built-in dust extraction / collection systems to prevent most of the potential dust from getting airborne in the first place, helping to protect workers' health. Still, whenever you work involves generating dust – whether it's wood dust, fine fibres, or other materials – you will need to wear a dust mask. With modern homes using an increasing amount of insulation this has become a growing issue, and there are various grades of mask available designed to protect you from different types of dust.

  • FFP1 is designed for large dust particles in light-dust areas;
  • FFP2 is designed for toxic particles and welding fumes; and
  • FFP3 is designed for fine toxic dust, mist and fumes

Read the technical information shipped with your power tool for advice on the appropriate mask to use.

A well-stocked first aid kit

Make sure your site has a standard HSE-compliant first aid kit in an accessible location. This will include plasters, dressings and many other items that are commonly required on site for minor injuries. Mount it on a wall in a highly visible location and ensure everyone on site knows where to find it.

Hand protection

When you are deciding which gloves to use, it will really depend on the tasks you are undertaking. Some jobs demand tough, heavy duty gloves to offer excellent protection, whereas others need to be lightweight and relatively thin to cater for jobs demanding greater dexterity. General-purpose gloves often offer a good compromise, offering some thermal protection, a decent rubberised grip and waterproof fabric. Disposable latex gloves are handy for jobs that are messy but do not pose an injury risk.

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