BOHS, the Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection, has officially launched a major new phase of its Breathe Freely initiative to prevent occupational lung disease in the manufacturing sector, urging the industry to get on board with robust controls to protect the respiratory health of their welders.
The new campaign – to be run in partnership with EEF the manufacturers’ organisation, HSE, TWI, TUC, JCB, Toyota and BAE Systems – will operate concurrently with the Society’s original Breathe Freely initiative for the construction industry.
The launch event, held on 01 June at the EEF London headquarters, was attended by some 70 partners and supporters of the campaign with the aim of raising awareness of the respiratory health hazards, which cause around 90% of the estimated 13,000 deaths in Britain each year from work-related diseases across all sectors.
Looking at the manufacturing sector specifically, it is estimated that annually, around 4,000 workers suffer from breathing and lung problems they believed were caused or made worse by their work.
Furthermore, the sector’s welders have been identified as a group at particular risk of serious lung conditions from inhaling hazardous fumes, gases and dusts. The Society has, therefore, confirmed that the new phase of the Breathe Freely initiative will focus primarily on improving respiratory health protection for welders:
Welding is one of the most common activities carried out in the UK. It is estimated that there are around 190,000 workers in the UK who weld, comprising of around 73,000 professional, skilled welders and many other unskilled or semi-skilled welders who carry out welding as part of their job.
Welding is one of the top ten causes of work-related cancer, estimated at causing around 150 deaths a year in the UK.
In addition, welding is associated with numerous other serious health conditions, such as asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), metal fume fever and effects on the nervous system as well as short-term irritation of the throat and lungs, and reduced lung function.
Each year, it is estimated that breathing metal fume at work leads to 40 to 50 welders being hospitalised with pneumonia, with the disease killing about two welders annually.
Launching the campaign, Karen Bufton, President of BOHS, said, “The good news is there’s a solution – all of these cases of ill health caused by welding are, in fact, preventable. Welders can be protected from the hazardous fumes and gases by recognising the hazards, evaluating the risks and controlling exposures. This is, quite simply, good occupational hygiene practice.
She continued, “Unfortunately, we know that workers are still being exposed to high levels of welding fumes and gases because in some workplaces, either there are no controls in place, inappropriate controls are being used, or the controls provided are not being used properly. Our new initiative aims to ensure we’re getting this right. We are urging employers to make use of our Breathe Freely resources to check that the right controls are in place and are being used properly, with a solid plan in place to ensure continuous improvements in practice.”
“Tackling ill health is a key responsibility of business,” said Dame Judith Hackitt, Chair of EEF, “but we will only achieve success if everyone recognises that it is an integral part of success. We know that keeping people fit and in work as well as accommodating an increasingly aging workforce can hold the key to productivity gains in our sector with the health of employees a major factor in an organisation’s competitiveness. Good health is good business.
“Whilst we have achieved significant progress, there is still much more that can be done to manage occupational health risks; and initiatives such as this can only ensure such an important business task receives more attention.”
Speaking at the launch, HSE Chair Martin Temple told delegates: “It is great to see the range of organisations here acting together to improve health and safety; in particular, BOHS for setting up the Breathe Freely initiative and EEF for its support in instigating this second phase covering welding.
“This is a significant workplace activity where we can and must make a real difference to workers’ health. Businesses no longer allow staff to be in clouds of cigarette smoke so welding fumes should be considered with as much concern. Unfortunately, workers in some businesses are still being exposed to high concentrations of fumes and gases. Make sure you’re getting this right.”
The Breathe Freely resources for manufacturing can be accessed through BOHS’s web-based centre of excellence on exposure control at www.breathefreely.org.uk featuring the following:
Welder task sheets showing the controls that need to be in place to protect welders
A welding fume slidepack and information sheet for H S & E Managers to use when communicating with employees
Guidance materials on topics such as LEV, RPE and the hierarchy of control – over time, a bank of good practice case studies highlighting the benefits of having the right controls in place will also be made available
External links, including the BOHS Directory of Occupational Hygiene Services at www.bohs.org/consultant – the definitive list of UK companies able to provide qualified and experienced occupational hygienists, and specialist occupational hygiene support services.
Source: SHP Online