Working outdoors can be dangerous and comes with a very different set of risks and challenges compared to indoor work. Employers have very important responsibilities to ensure that their employees are as safe as possible and this often starts with making sure they are wearing the right personal protective equipment (PPE). This is equipment that will protect the user, or wearer, against health and safety risks.
In this guide, I want to look at the responsibilities of an employer when it comes to issuing and advising on PPE usage, as well as some of the hazards this gear can protect against.
An Employer’s Responsibility
Employers have a duty to make their workplaces as safe as they can. If, when the workplace itself has been made as safe as possible, there are still potential risks to workers, then the employer should provide the correct PPE to the worker whilst they are at work, free of any charge. On most building sites for example, helmets will be needed to protect workers from injuries, such as those that can be caused by falling objects, but also anyone visiting the site. It’s important, therefore, for employers to know what kind of PPE their workers require.
It’s also an employer’s responsibility to ensure that PPE is maintained properly – that it is stored properly, cleaned and maintained regularly, and that replacements and spares are available. If an employee is responsible for their own PPE maintenance and care, it’s the employer’s duty to make sure they know exactly what this entails. New workers need to know who they should be dealing with, when it comes to the issuing of PPE and guidance and training relating to its maintenance and use.
Working outdoors has its own distinct dangers, both to workers but also members of public if it is a public space. The environment itself can cause difficulties and extremes of weather, both hot and cold also present risks to health if not taken seriously. Natural environments such as forests have their own specific hazards, such as falling branches, rough uneven ground and the inherent danger that comes from tree work. The equipment that is used in this kind of work can also pose a risk, especially if you are working with chainsaws and other cutting or pruning equipment.
Personal Protective Equipment Breakdown
It’s often easiest to break down personal protective equipment by the area of the body it relates to. We’ve broken it down here into three main areas.
Protecting your Head
It’s very important to protect your head, neck and eyes from injury whether it be from falling objects or risk of a fall, debris caused by power tools such as chainsaws or hazardous chemicals or fumes. Wearing a helmet is the best kind of coverage you’ll get for this area of the body. In many environments will be a legal requirement that it is the employer’s responsibility to enforce. Some helmets are fitted with visors or goggles, as well as ear muffs to protect the ears when working with or near loud machinery and a chinstrap if the helmet is to be used at height.
Protecting your Arms and Hands
If you’re working with your hands then they are usually the part of your body at most risk of injury. When working outside, there is a risk of cuts, abrasions, burns or stings from the environment, as well as the risk of injury from accidents or from the machinery you use. Work gloves are an important piece of equipment for outdoor workers. Some gloves come with cuffs or sleeves attached for extra protection. Again, depending on the nature of the work and the completion of a risk assessment, glove usage will be a requirement for some workers.
Protecting your Legs and Feet
Boots and shoes should always measure up to the appropriate safety standards. Protective toecaps and weather resistant materials are important, as is a solid sole which will not slip easily. For chainsaw work, chainsaw boots should always be worn.
There is a lot of information and resources available from the HSE website on this.
The clothes that you and your workers wear can also be part of your PPE. You need to consider the kind of weather that you’ll be working in, in order to choose the best gear. In winter, for example, you may well need warm layers, a waterproof outer coat and fastenings which will prevent wind chill or flapping.
If it’s sunny, on the other hand, you need to make sure that outdoor workers have sun protection, access to plenty of drinking water and shade if necessary. Sometimes, PPE is heavy and hot, but must still be worn in summer. In that case, employees need to be reminded to take regular breaks and remove heavy clothing to cool down during those breaks.
There are some very specific dangers when working outdoors. Working with chemicals such as pesticides and fertilisers is one risk area. Workers need to be able to breathe, so may need masks or even respirators.
Chainsaw users, in particular, should be equipped with safety gear and trained in chainsaw use. This includes helmets, gloves, chainsaw boots, eye protection, ear protection against the noise, trousers, gaiters and jacket, preferably all high-visibility. The HSE website has a detailed explanation of the gear needed and the standards it must reach.
Image from http://www.offshoreenergytoday.com/statoil-selects-wenaas-workwear/