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Effective communication during a shift handover provides a strong layer of protection in preventing major incidents. In the oil & gas industry, hazards are inevitable and if they are not identified properly, they may lead to regrettable situations such as disasters. Continuous process in the oil & gas industry demands people who carry out operations and maintenance of oil & gas plants, usually within 24 hours, 7 days a week. Therefore, workers are frequently rotated on a routine basis within a cycle refereed as shift work. Within continuous process, shift handover is required between those who are on shift works. Shift handover is defined as transferring responsibilities and tasks from one individual to another or a work team and it is one of the best known types of safety critical communication.

Shift handover is a critical activity with a direct impact on production and safety. Poor shift handover is known to cause operation problems such as plant upsets, unplanned shut downs and product reworks, which can result in considerable revenue loss. Research by one oil & gas company revealed that while start-up, shutdown and changeover periods account for less than 5% of an operation’s staff time, 40% of plant incidents occur during this time . In fact, every second incident or accident in the process industry is related to communication errors that occurred during shift handovers.

This article will examine the key challenges in shift handover and illustrate how shift handover became one of the contributing factors in some major incidents in the oil & gas sector. We’ll also provide recommendations on how to have a robust and effective shift handover process.


The importance of shift handover was highlighted in such major oil & gas incidents as Piper Alpha, Texas City, Buncefield and Deepwater Horizon. The Cullen report following the Piper Alpha disaster inquiry clearly mentioned, as one of many factors that contributed to the incident, the failure of transferring information in shift handover. In fact, information that a pressure safety valve had been removed and replaced by a blind flange was not communicated between shifts. In addition to that, there was no written procedure for shift handover and information that was written in a shift handover logbook was left to the lead operator’s discretion.

An explosion at a Buncefield oil storage depot was another incident where shift handover was one of many contributing factors that led to disaster. The Buncefield incident investigation team revealed that effective arrangements for shift handover were not in place and there was confusion between supervisors about which tank was being filled, and the shift logbook was only used to capture information about one of the pipelines. Furthermore, the logbook only had information about the plant situation during end of the shift, not events occurring during the shift. Finally, it was revealed that allocated time for handover between shift supervisors was not sufficient.

The Texas City Refinery explosion in 2005 is an example of total failure of shift handover management, in addition to a range of technical failures that contributed to this incident. The investigation team found out there were no procedures being used during shift handover. The absence of a lead operator during shift handover, miscommunication, unclear information and lack of required details in the shift handover logbook were also evident. Working operators in a shift pattern for 30 consecutive days in such a hazardous facility led to excessive fatigue among personnel and demonstrated a lack of required policy for shift work. Even though shift handover management and lessons learned from BP’s Grangemouth refinery incident in 2000 (which was similar to the Texas City Refinery explosion) were available, BP’s Texas City management did not appear to learn from the lessons of the Grangemouth study.


Communication is at the heart of every aspect of our lives. All communication is prone to error and misunderstandings are an inventible feature of human communication. Reliable communication is highly critical to safety, and shift handover falls into this category. Effective communication during a shift handover provides a strong layer of protection in preventing major incidents. Good communication between management, supervisors and workers at an informal level is a feature of low incident plants.

People tend to underestimate the complexity of the communication process, and consequently overestimate their ability to communicate effectively. Communication failures are probably under-reported and most of the time have been ignored during incident investigations. Checking that information has been received and understood is equally critical. As playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Unreliable communication can result from a range of issues, including:
  • Missing information.
  • Unnecessary information.
  • Inaccurate information.
  • Poor quality of information.
  • Misunderstandings.


    A shift handover is effectively the transfer of knowledge from an outgoing staff member to an incoming staff member, typically thought to be a unidirectional process in which the outgoing operator decides which information is of importance for transferring, so that the incoming staff can effectively operate the facility. When operators write shift handover reports, the reports are based on one assumption—one BIG assumption! The assumed fact is that all staff members have a shared thought process and common understanding. This assumption leads to miscommunication, lack of a common understanding and potential incidents. An outgoing operator will typically write anything that they feel is relevant to the incoming shift, based on personal judgment.

    The lack of structure, poor legibility and insufficient information often found in shift logbooks has been well documented. A literature review indicated that 80% of oil & gas production facilities’ logbooks are in unstructured style and do not capture key information; what’s more, they sometimes include unnecessary information, while key information is buried in the content. A review of the Piper Alpha and Texas City incident investigation reports by indicate that lack of logbook information and the informal/unstructured shift handover processes were key failures in the lead up to both incidents. Both company teams were aware of the minimum and necessary information that is required to operate the facility safely and effectively; however, with the pressure and rush of day-to-day operations, it is simple to forget key elements during shift handover.


    It is very important to pay special attention to certain circumstances during shift handover, such as maintenance or abnormal situations. Miscommunication of maintenance issues over a shift change can have serious safety implications. When plant maintenance carries over during a shift change, there is a high likelihood of miscommunication occurring between incoming and outgoing personnel.

    A clear picture of all activities needs to be presented to incoming shift, otherwise all activities would be based on an inaccurate understanding and incomplete information. In addition to this, shift handovers between experienced and inexperienced staff, or during periods when some staff have been absent for long period of time, or when the plant’s safety system has been overridden for some reason are all considered to be high-risk shift handovers. Therefore, where practical, maintenance should be completed within one shift, which would eliminate the risk of miscommunication during shift handover.


    Following major incidents, most regulators look closely at shift handover management and defined requirements for shift handover systems. When the UK’s Health and Safety Executive agency examined 16 offshore oil & gas companies, they discovered the following issues in relation to shift handover:

  • Did not clearly define responsibilities and information needs.
  • Did not provide written guidance.
  • Did not mention it in their safety case.
  • Lacked risk awareness among their operators.
  • Provided little or no training.
  • Did little monitoring or auditing.
  • Had accidents that involved miscommunication at shift handover, e.g., maintenance or plant status.



  • Confined space (CS) entry has been recognised as a hazardous activity for many years and yet, sadly, it continues to be a source of major accidents and incidents resulting in fatalities and severe environmental pollution around the world.

    When you search online, there are a number of examples of fatal CS-related accidents. You may be familiar with such incidents, either as first-hand experience or from colleagues.

    As examples:

  • Four people died when entering a sewage pit for cleaning as a result of trying to rescue the first entrant who got into difficulties (Gulf News, 2015)
  • Three people were killed in ADCO onshore oilfield H2s accident

    What is a confined space?

    Although a straight forward question, the definition differs from country to country. But the essential features of a confined space such as enclosed space, risks and differentiation from other parts of the establishment are common to all.

    For example, under the Abu Dhabi OSHAD (CoP 27) Code of Practice V3.1 March 2019, and the UK HSE Approved Code of Practice (L 101), a confined space is defined as “any place, including tanks, vessels, pipes, sewers, silos, storage bins, hoppers, vaults, pits, excavations, manholes or other similar space that by the virtues of its enclosed nature, there arises a reasonably foreseeable specified risk”.

    Under OSHA 3138-01R Standard, a CS is defined as somewhere that:

  • Is large enough for an employee to enter fully and perform assigned work
  • Is not designed for continuous occupancy by the employee
  • Has a limited or restricted means of entry or exit These spaces may include underground vaults, tanks, storage bins, pits and diked areas, vessels, silos and other similar areas.

    Furthermore, the OSHA standard narrows it down to Permit Required type of Confined Space (PRCS) as follows:

  • Contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere
  • Contains a material with the potential to engulf someone who enters the space
  • Has an internal configuration that might cause an entrant to be trapped or asphyxiated by inwardly converging walls or by a floor that slopes downward and tapers to a smaller cross section
  • Contains any other recognised serious safety or health hazards

    Confined space locations

    Some features of a confined space are not obvious at first glance. For example, when entering a space enclosed on three-sides by land but open to the sky it may not seem like a CS.

    There are, however, recorded fatalities in such spaces in the farming industries or by the side of canals where the level of oxygen may be below the safe limits due to displacement by biological plant/animal activities, which could release low-lying carbon dioxide or hydrogen sulphide.

    The more common locations of a confined space are listed below based on L 101 UK HSE guidance referenced in Section 3. Note that the list is not exhaustive. If your specific CS does not appear on this list, it does not mean

    it is not a confined space. For more information, details of how to identify a CS are provided in Section 8 of the HSE guidance.

    Examples of confined space locations include:

  • Ducts, culverts, tunnels, boreholes, bored piles, manholes, shafts, excavations and trenches, sumps, inspection and under-machine pits, cofferdams
  • Freight containers, ballast tanks, ships’ engine rooms and cargo holds
  • Buildings, building voids
  • Some enclosed rooms (particularly plant rooms) and compartments within
  • Enclosures for the purpose of asbestos removal
  • Areas used for storage of materials that are likely to oxidise (such as store rooms for steel chains or wood pellet hopper tanks)
  • Unventilated or inadequately ventilated rooms and silos
  • Structures that become confined spaces during fabrication or manufacture
  • Interiors of machines, plant or vehicles

    As a reminder, there may be other types of confined space not covered in the previous list.

    Hazards of confined spaces entry

    The more common hazards of a confined space are listed as:

  • Presence of flammable or oxygen rich environment
  • Presence of toxic and/ or corrosive substances
  • Lack of oxygen or depleted levels of oxygen
  • Presence of asphyxiants
  • Thermal load (hot or cold)
  • Working at height
  • Unexpected ingress of other substances or water
  • Other hazards such as electricity, noise, collapse or subsidence of or within the space, loss of structural integrity and those arising from mechanical equipment and working space
  • Hidden presence of toxic, corrosive or flammable substances below apparently dry films such as previous tank coating, which during cleaning processes become live and emit the trapped substances

    Modern Standards and Regulations

    Countries around the world have their own safety standards on CS entry requirements. Examples for the Middle East, Europe, Australia and USA, respectively, are listed below:

  • 27.0 - Confined Spaces v3.1 English- Updated available at www.oshad.ae/Lists/ OshadSystemDocument/Attachments/122/OSHAD-SF%20-%20TG%20-%20 Safe%20Work%20in%20Confined%20Spaces%20v3.1%20English.pdf
  • Safe Work in Confined Spaces (www.hse.gov.uk/pUbns/priced/l101.pdf)
  • Model Code of Safe Working (Confined Spaces available at: www.safework australia.gov.au/system/files/documents/1705/mcop-confined-spaces-v3.pdf)
  • OSHA (29 CFR 1910.146) Confined Spaces and Permit-Required Confined-Spaces OSHA 3138-01R (2004) (www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3138.pdf)

    This is not an exhaustive list and some situations would present additional or multiple simultaneous hazards such as ergonomic hazards whilst carrying out detailed maintenance in confined spaces with power tools.



  • The Petroleum Industry has undergone a historic boom, with new technology coming in place. The employment in the oil and gas industry is growing time and again and the jobs in this sector are one of the most dangerous and hazardous. Together with occupational risks, there arise safety risks which include bodily injury to fingers and hands. These are the most vulnerable physical parts which are easily prone to risks and dangers.

    Finger and hand injuries are regularly featured in petroleum companies’ incident records. They make up to 50% of the accidents in the sector. As per the 2014 statistics issued by the International Association of Drilling Contractors, 43% of the recorded incidents on exploration and production rigs were comprised of just the injuries related to hand and fingers. Due to which, the companies involved in the oil and gas exploration and production industry are employing more injury prevention strategies.

    “43% of the recorded incidents on the exploration and production rigs were comprised of hand and fingers injuries”

    These kinds of risks are included in the occupational hazards in the petroleum industry. The hazards are omnipresent, ranging from upstream to midstream and downstream as well. The workers are prone to come into contact with the heavy equipment, chains, pipes, and flash fires, which may result in accidents. Despite the regulations with regards to personal protective materials, the risks are high.

    The workmen in such a dangerous environment deserve better safety and protection. The industry must adopt specific standards and regulations that should mandate the following:

  • Educating the workforce about the risks and how to employ safe practices
  • Usage of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) which shall start with requisite hand protection
    Hazards such as struck by objects or being caught between dangerous equipment as well as exposure to heat, flares, fires and chemicals, cause inherent bodily harm, which is long-lasting.

    The companies are obliged to conduct a proper risk assessment and thereby afford the employees a chance to understand how the risks can be avoided and mitigated. This can minimise finger and hand injuries. The company should prioritise the minimisation of exposing the workmen to unnecessary risks.

    It is pertinent to note that technology has advanced in this industry where injuries can be said to have been reduced. The technology used is such as pipe handling via remote control in the case of oil and gas pipe drillings.

    Introduction of advanced expertise and technology

    There are kinds of injuries which have witnessed reduction when the technology is put to use. These technologies consist of remote-control pipe handling systems in the exploration and production rigs. One of the significant changes is separating the human touch from the machinery, while still controlling the operation and thereby improving the safety standards in the industry.

    One of many examples of these technologies is the “Iron Derrickman”. It is installed on the drilling oil rigs where it is carried out with the elimination of the necessity of personnel above the derrick and floor below on the floor of the platform. This further results in a rapid reduction of the risks which are exposed during the handling of the pipes and rigs. One of the other methods is remote top drive technology, which is undertaken via the hands-free case.

    The petroleum companies operating in international waters are under an obligation to comply with the regulatory requirements that stipulate the usage of remotely operated and unmanned vehicular equipment. However, it is essential to take into consideration that this advanced technological equipment will create dangers to humans and in a specific event, these significant accidents have taken place – collisions between these uncrewed vehicles and personnel as well as between structures and with the equipment itself.

    In spite of increased and enhanced awareness amongst the workers and improvement in the training of the employers within the industry, the number of injuries involving hands keeps on increasing. This trend is evident everywhere, since these risks are inherent in all workplaces.

    According to one occupational health and safety magazine in the oil and gas industry, the majority of incidents are related to hands, arms and fingers. It can be easily construed that hands and fingers are not much prone to hazards, but the reality is that hands take most of the risks and dangers and suffer a lot of exploitation.

    Generating awareness amongst the oil and gas companies is effective on its own where these organisations have come up with campaigns for health and safety where informative posters and animation will help the creation of a safe environment at the workplace. Companies need to approach the protection and security from within the organisation to combat the ever-changing and ever-increasing risks of injuries.

    Chemical risks

    Equipment and machines do indeed create hazards and dangers on-site, but the second contributor towards the injuries can be afforded to the corrosives, or more specifically, the chemicals. These chemicals are hazardous and irritant to the sensitive areas of the skin, which is highly capable of damages which can prolong for an extended period.

    These corrosive chemicals cause hazardous risks and damages including hand blistering, skin loss and sometimes even the rehab therapists and the doctors would not be an able cure. The second hazard is the absolute temperature where the hands become so sensitive that protection is highly necessary during operations. There is also another risk of electrical burns and shocks which are common in day to day life and cause approximately a thousand deaths per year.

    Preventing workplace injuries

    It is of utmost importance that such damages must be avoided and taken care of. It mainly occurs due to incorrect positioning of the fingers or hands, which indicates that the safety training has not been taken place for the workers or the personnel. Another issue is the improper use of the tools. It is the job of the company to provide proper training and understanding of the practical applications of the devices.

    Further, even improper outerwear contributes a lot to finger injuries. Such as continually wearing rings and cuffs, which can substantially hamper the proper operation of the machinery within the electrical zones.

    The worker should be wearing gloves and protective clothing at all times, for example:

  • Rubber gloves and protective guards
  • Electrical gloves for electrical work
  • For cutting, use of steel mesh gloves
  • Limit the use of soft cotton or canvas gloves

    Health and safety regulations in the UAE

    While there are regulations governing health and safety in the different Emirates of the UAE, the oil and gas industry may, depending on the Emirate, have different requirements and legislation regulating the industry and safety of the workers.

    The UAE is a nation that has attained global recognition in multiple areas; some of the most prominent of these include the oil and gas industry as well as the construction industry.

    “companies need to approach protection from within the organisation to combat the risks of injuries”

    There was a time not too long ago that the UAE contained a considerable proportion of the world’s cranes and was growing at a rate rarely seen, even in the modern world of construction marvels; this was during the nation's construction boom era, and things have since calmed as the country has become significantly more developed. To this day, however, it is unlikely that one could visit the country and not see a considerable number of projects being developed and constructed.

    The oil industry is also one who is and has remained of the utmost importance for decades, and while the UAE is a relatively small country in terms of population and size, it is still among the global leaders in terms of oil production. Oil accounts for a notably significant proportion of the nation's GDP and large amounts of funding go into facilities involved in the extraction, refinery and production of the related products.

    The essential Health and Safety regulations can be found in the UAE Labour Law (Federal Law Number 8 of 1980), though this legislation does not explicitly mention equipment and uniform related to health and safety. Chapter 5, Article 91, states that the employer must provide appropriate safety measures for hazards that may arise. This Article primarily concerns safety risks such as fire hazards for which sprinkler systems would be implemented and fire extinguishers provided in appropriate areas. While this is what is mentioned mainly, it can be assumed that the idea would extend to protective wear if such clothing or equipment should be required. The employees must wear any protective equipment provided by employers.

    Further to this, medical examinations must be provided to employees who work around hazardous equipment or hazardous situations. These must be provided regularly and by the employer. Through this safety procedure, any issues with health and safety measures that are utilised may be identified and fixed for the future.

    The UAE Federal Law Number 8 of 1980 concerning the Labour law mentions explicitly that the employer must create such an employee-friendly environment and provide with an adequate measure for their protection. Pursuant to that, the oil and gas companies have to make sure that they comply with the different permits and regulations that are brought about by the municipalities in the UAE. Also, it is the duty and responsibility of the municipalities to conduct regular compliance checks at such platforms and rigs.


    Despite continuous efforts from the petroleum companies regarding safety and protection and hazard mitigation, the number of injuries increases year on year and no substantive solution is provided for its improvement. With repeated and unstoppable synergies from the companies as well as the employers, we can surely achieve the second step in human safety and protection and devise a strategy that is both work and employee friendly.

    It can be undoubtedly said that improvement in technology for oil and gas drilling rigs can play a significant part in mitigating risks, but it is also important to note that there is equal involvement of the employees and the employers together achieving a similar goal of safety and risk and hazard mitigation.



  • Be vigilant to prevent heat-related illnesses, injuries. Exposure to fresh air and sunlight, as well as not being confined to an office, are a few of the perks many outdoor workers enjoy. But with the good comes the bad, which includes oppressive temperatures during the summer months, when heat-related illnesses and injuries – even deaths – are a heightened concern.

    For workers in the waste removal and recycling industry, being outdoors year-round and coping with extreme temperatures and weather are part of the job.

    “No one really faults any trash company for not getting their trash picked up when there’s 6 inches of snow,” said Kirk Sander, vice president of safety and standards at the Arlington, VA-based National Waste and Recycling Association. “If it’s 105 degrees and humid, you also have to have the same understanding that we can’t push [our] bodies that hard.”

    Nearly half of all jobs required working outdoors in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And, from 1992 to 2016, heat stress resulted in 783 worker deaths and caused nearly 70,000 serious injuries.

    Although OSHA doesn’t have a heat stress standard, experts interviewed by Safety+Health recommend that employers have a prevention plan in place and provide a written emergency plan onsite. A prevention plan should include proper training and encourage workers to drink plenty of water, take periodic rest breaks and seek shade when temperatures rise. Meanwhile, employers and co-workers should keep a watchful eye for signs of heat stress.

    Feeling the heat

    Because of the nature of the work, agriculture, landscaping and construction are among the most common industries in which heat-related injuries and illnesses occur, said David Hornung, heat and agriculture program coordinator for the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health – also known as Cal/OSHA.

    The agency oversees the Central Valley – a 20,000-square-mile agricultural region that stretches 450 miles through the geographical center of the state – and the people who work there. “They do very intense outdoor work, often in very hot conditions,” Hornung said. “It’s very difficult manual labor.”

    Outdoor labor, according to federal OSHA, can lead to ailments ranging from heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heatstroke, which is considered a medical emergency.

    “The harder you work, the more metabolic heat you generate,” Hornung said. “That increases your risk of heat illness. Workers have to self-monitor their water consumption, how they’re feeling. They can also watch out for one another and see if their buddies are getting signs or symptoms of heat illness and encourage them to take cool-down rests.”

    Workers and employers can benefit from knowing the warning signs and symptoms of heat illnesses, as well as having prevention and emergency response plans in place.

    “It’s not like you just provide them water and that solves the problem,” Hornung said. “It starts with an effective plan. The four main components we stress are shade, water, emergency procedures and training (known as SWET).” Why acclimatization matters

    Even before the calendar turns to July and August, workers who let their guard down may be at increased risk.

    “One thing we’ve noticed with heat exhaustion is that some cases occur as early as April,” said Edward Taylor, executive director of the Construction Industry Research and Policy Center at the University of Tennessee. “The most cases seem to occur in May, before the worker is getting acclimated.”

    Additionally, workers new to a job may be at greater risk of fatal heat exposure.

    In 2016, OSHA reviewed the agency’s 84 heat enforcement cases from 2012 and 2013. It found that 17 of the 23 workers who died were in their first three days on a job, including eight on their first day.

    “The body hasn’t had time to physiologically adjust to the heat,” Hornung said. “[It’s about] ensuring that people know what acclimatization is, and that it takes a person up to two weeks for their body to get used to working in the heat.”

    OSHA recommends that new workers, as well as employees returning from a prolonged absence, do 20% of an average day’s workload on their first day on the job. Work should increase incrementally each day, but not by more than 20%.

    When summertime heat waves set in, the agency suggests employers implement acclimatization practices. For example, workers should start the first day of the event at 50% of their normal work pace, followed by 60% on the second day, 80% on the third and 100% by the fourth.


    There are numerous different topics that must be explored when considering the realm of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and in particular, protective footwear. It comes in many different shapes and sizes to fit a wide variety of applications.

    As with every piece of PPE the key consideration is to understand what hazards you are trying to protect your workers from. This is always best done as part of a formal risk assessment process. The so called ‘hierarchy of control’ determines that PPE should always be the last line of defence in protecting people and that other means of control such as elimination, substitution, isolation, engineering controls and administrative controls, should all be addressed first before considering PPE. In many applications of risk control there will invariably be some form of residual risk that may be further minimised through the use of PPE. A further vital consideration in the selection and use of PPE is to ensure that you are fully aware of and therefore compliant with all specific legal requirements for the country/region that you are operating in. Today, most countries have specific health and safety legislation dictating PPE requirements, you must ensure you understand and meet these. If in doubt, make contact with the local, regional or governmental regulatory agency responsible for health and safety legislation enforcement and seek advice.

    Let us take a look at some examples where personal protective footwear may be used to reduce risk.

    People working in environments with extreme temperature range; this can include people working with extreme hot temperatures, e.g. working with molten metals (steelworks and foundries) to people working in extreme cold environments, e.g. people working in freezers (meat and fish industries). Personal protective footwear for both these applications will be essential, but the type of footwear and its characteristics will be quite different.

    Then there will be the three classical interpretations of protective footwear, designed to:

  • Minimise the risk of slipping on wet or oily surfaces
  • Protect people from stepping on sharp objects which can penetrate the skin
  • Protect toes from dropped objects and/ or compaction injuries

    There is also a wide variety of specialist protective footwear to safeguard against other significant hazards. People working in wet environments and chemical environments often wear protective rubber boots. People working in the electronics and semiconductor industries often wear anti-static footwear to prevent a build-up of static electricity, which might accidentally discharge into sensitive electronic components. In a related yet different application, you will have people working in high voltage electrical environments; these workers require protective footwear that isolates them from conducting a current.

    Some workers, particularly in the construction and energy industries, will also wear protective boots to help minimise the risk of ankle injuries, usually ‘rolled’ or ‘twisted’ ankles caused by stumbling or tripping on uneven/ broken surfaces.

    A different specialised environment would include people who work in steep/mountainous terrains, for example; seismic exploration and forestry. These workers will require footwear best suited to the topography that they will be climbing in.
    v A final example might be workers in a health care environment, where PPE can take the form of a lightweight antislip sandal. This footwear can provide a comfort sole to people who are standing still for long periods; they also help to prevent feet from overheating and sweating, which can result in different types of skin ailments.

    Effects of temperature

    As is already apparent, there are a large number of people who might require personal protective footwear, across many different industries and geographical locations. When you reference the aforementioned list, please also bear in mind that many workers will require footwear that combines several hazards. Take the example of construction or oil and gas workers in locations like Siberia or Alaska. They will require footwear to protect them from -45°C temperatures in the winter months, whilst at the same time providing; toe protection, ankle support, anti-slip grip and possibly sole of the foot protection. The very same workers will require an entirely different boot for the summer months where daytime temperatures can reach +35°C. Thus, these workers will require at least two completely different sets of footwear. It is very common for workers to require footwear that address a number of different hazards and the type of protective shoe or boot must reflect this.

    During a career in health and safety that spans more than 30 years I can recall a diverse range of incidents to feet and ankles where protective footwear could have helped either prevent serious personal injury or at least mitigate the effects.

    Some examples for your consideration; a worker in Kazakhstan that had to have two toes amputated as a result of frostbite in his right foot. He had been working outside for long periods of time in -20°C temperatures in a pair of ‘training shoes’.

    A construction worker who broke several toes after the load of bricks he wasvcarrying fell on his legs and feet, his shoes had no toe protection. A significant number of twisted ankle events where workers stumbled on uneven surfaces. Invariably the workers were wearing some form of protective shoe, but this did not provide any form of ankle protection. In some cases, the workers were wearing a slip on boot (very popular in the oil and gas industry) but the boot did not afford any form of ankle support. The boot had a protective toe cover, protective sole plate and antislip (gripping) sole, but the ankle was free moving inside the boot. This boot was very popular in the offshore oil and gas industry in the 1970s and 1980s. Part of the reason for this was that it was very easy to put on and take off. These workers would always be required to take their footwear off when they came inside the facility, this was to try and keep the interiors clean and dry. But if workers were having to remove their footwear six to eight times a day every day, they wanted something that was quick and easy to slip in and out of.

    The same could also be said for people working in extreme cold environments; they want protective footwear that can be put on and taken off quickly, in -40°C temperatures you don’t want to spend five minutes tying or untying laces. So whilst the slip on boot met the criteria to be easy to put on and take off, the industry began to notice a growing number of twisted ankle events which could have been prevented had the boots afforded the wearer some form of ankle support. Industry gurus worked with the industry designers and manufacturers to try and develop a solution, a boot that provided ankle support but which at the time could be quickly removed. The protective footwear industry answered that call and developed a range of options to suit. One example was a lace up boot (to provide tight ankle support) with a zipper access, which would allow the foot to be easily and quickly placed or removed from the boot. Please note this is just one example, different manufacturers today have many different types of solutions to this problem.

    I can also remember investigating an incident where a form worker, who was part of a team pouring cement as part of the construction of a basement, received severe chemical burns to his feet, ankles and shins. The worker had been wearing protective rubber boots to help him move through the wet cement, but the cement had splashed inside the boots and settled against his feet and legs. Cement has a significant alkali value; typically in the region of a PH 12 to 13 (Where a PH of 14 is considered the maximum and a PH of 7 is considered neutral). The fact that the cement was constantly exposed to the workers skin from the captive environment inside the boot exacerbated the problem and the worker received alkaline burns that caused a severe injury. This is an example where just wearing the PPE is only part of the protective solution, the worker also has to understand the nature of the risk. In this case the worker was aware that cement had splashed inside his boots, but did not appreciate the harm that this may cause.

    I can recall a fatal accident to a seismic worker who was working in a rocky mountainous terrain. He had been issued with a set of steel toe protected work boots, the sort of boots that might have been perfect PPE in a factory type of environment. They were very sturdy, heavy and hot to wear. The worker was climbing over steep rocky topography that required professional climbing skills (which he had), he was covering 10 to 12km every day. At some point towards the end of the job he fell eight metres from a narrow footpath and died as a result of his injuries. No one actually saw what happened and it was therefore difficult to determine root cause, however, one of the critical findings of this investigation was that his protective footwear was totally unacceptable for the task and the terrain.

    Addressing myths

    There is one popular myth associated with footwear that I would also like to address and that is that steel protected shoes / boots will protect a worker from absolutely all impact and compression incidents.

    In the European Union, the current standard for safety footwear EN ISO 20345:2011 determines that toe protection should be able to withstand a 200 joule impact. This will afford protection from a variety of dropped objects dependent obviously on the mass of the object and the height from which it falls. But this impact standard will not afford much if any protection if the workers foot is run over by a forklift truck or has a shipping container landed on it (both sadly very common in many industries). Clearly it is very important to understand the limits of the protection afforded by the different types of PPE.

    Having determined that protective footwear is required, the next stage is to identify a selection of suitable boots and/ or shoes that meet your criteria. Remember at this stage to ensure that your footwear meets any legal requirements that may exist and that it is manufactured and certified to meet applicable relevant international standards. There are a wide range of applicable standards for all footwear applications. The manufacturers and wholesalers can help you with this. The next stage is to invite your workforce or a representative sample to try some of the different footwear to assess fit, comfort, ease of putting on and taking off, weight and heat (most modern protective boots and shoes are designed with breathable materials to wick away moisture to help keep feet dry. Breathable materials include products like Coolmax and DXTVent designed to cool the footwear for workers operating in warm conditions.

    Once you have settled on a particular type of protective footwear you can move onto the next phase of the protective system which addresses the following important steps; training, cleaning (inside and out), care and maintenance, periodic inspection and replacement.

    You might think “why training? It’s only a pair of boots – how hard can it be?”

    But remember the case study above, where the construction worker was badly burned by cement that had splashed inside his protective boots. All he knew was that he was required to wear rubber boots, he had no idea what they were protecting him from. So, needless to say, training is an important part of the process towards PPE’s efficiency. It is an opportunity to ensure that all workers understand the nature of the hazards that they face and how the protective footwear can protect them. You can work with them to ensure that the footwear is put on correctly; for example, for ankle support, it is very important that the laces are fastened in the correct configuration and to a suitable tension to afford full protection. In many cases this training will most likely deal with the full remit of safe working practices in the different industries and the footwear will be one component; this is fine.

    Cleaning is also very important, particularly for footwear used in chemical industries or asbestos removal. There will be a very detailed process or procedure for cleaning these shoes/ boots as the cleaning process itself creates an additional hazard by potentially bringing an individual into contact with harmful substances / fibres. More general cleaning to remove mud, stones and contamination is also important to ensure that the protective systems within the footwear do not breakdown. I mention the importance of cleaning inside the boots too; if the boots get wet inside, it is important to dry them. If contaminants get inside the boots it will be important to either remove them or treat them. Sprinkling anti-fungal powder can help prevent a build-up of harmful fungus in the footwear. The manufacturers and suppliers of the footwear will be able to provide you with information on how to clean and care for your footwear.

    Periodic inspection, care and maintenance also contribute to this process. The inspection part is very helpful, your protective footwear will very quickly just become part of your daily routine, you will fail to even notice it, so it is very worthwhile every three to six months to take five to 10 minutes to check it over and make sure it is not damaged, punctured, worn or cracked. Puncturing and cracking may allow fluids to enter the shoe, which in any event will be uncomfortable, but if you are working in a chemical environment may lead to a chemical burn injury. So, make a point of conducting a routine check to ensure the footwear still affords the protection it was designed to. For most of us, once we have a comfortable pair of boots or shoes we are reluctant to give them up and replace them, but sometimes this is unavoidable. Once the integrity of the footwear begins to falter it is time to replace it.

    Protective footwear is a complex topic, so it is important to have access to good information and guidance; the manufacturers and suppliers – many of whom advertise in this magazine – are there to help you find the right solution. They will even be able to customise a solution for you if you have very specific needs. So please engage with them.

    As an ex-regulatory health and safety inspector for a government agency in the United Kingdom, I used to state that you could tell a great deal about a company by the condition of the PPE the workers wore. If it was fit for purpose, clean, well maintained and in good condition it spoke volumes about the company’s attitude to health and safety, and the workforce's attitude to safety culture.



  • Grinding, cutting and crushing processes, as well as dust, fumes, mists and vapours all have one chemical hazard in common: inhalation of a substance that can cause adverse health effects to the human body. In occupational health, the target organ that one needs to be concerned about when doing a health risk assessment on these processes would be the lungs, and depending on the chemical properties, also the skin.

    The respiratory system

    The principal function of the lungs is to supply the body with oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. To obtain oxygen, one must first breathe the oxygen into the lungs. Across the body cavity, below the lungs is the diaphragm. When the diaphragm moves downwards it makes a partial vacuum in the lungs.

    The pressure of the air outside the body is now greater than the pressure inside the lungs and air is pushed into the nose, down the wind pipe (called the trachea) where it splits into two bronchis: one entering the left lung and one entering the right lung. The bronchus further splits into bronchial tubes that divide many times inside each lung until the smallest branches end bluntly in the alveoli. The alveoli are the part of the lung where the gas exchange occurs. These tiny air sacs consist of very thin permeable membranes that are surrounded by blood vessels. There are 200 – 600 million alveoli in a fully developed adult lung (which would cover the area of a tennis court the size of 79m²) where diffusion can take place. Oxygen passes from the alveoli through the blood vessels into the bloodstream where it is transported by the red blood cells to the rest of the body. The cells of the body then use the oxygen to oxidise fuel for vital energy.

    One of the by-products of this oxidising process is carbon dioxide. As oxygen is taken up by tissues, carbon dioxide is given off and returned to the lungs by the red blood cells. The carbon dioxide follows the reverse path of oxygen, passing through the walls of the lung capillaries into the lungs. When the diaphragm relaxes, the ribs move downwards, compressing the lungs and forcing the carbon dioxide out of the lungs. Respiration is not a voluntary process. A person can voluntary hold his breath for a period, but the respiratory centre in the brain will ignore other messages from the body to continue the breathing process. The breathing process in the respiratory centre of the brain is triggered by an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood forcing a person to start breathing again.

    Defence mechanisms

    Different regions of the respiratory tract protect the lungs from dust exposure. Airborne particles enter the nose, but, as the nose is an efficient filter, large dust particles are trapped by the cells in the nose and mechanically removed by blowing the nose or sneezing. Unfortunately, smaller particles pass through the nose and reach the bronchus, taking the dust through the trachea and bronchus into the lungs. The bronchi splits into bronchioles. Note that all these pipes are lined with cells that produce mucus. Dust entering the pipe system is trapped by the mucus and tiny hair-like cells, called cilia, which then work the dust upward and out of the respiratory system into the throat, where it is either spat out when coughed up or swallowed. Should any dust particles reach the deep, inner parts of the lungs where the tiny alveoli receive oxygen and release carbon dioxide, there are no cilia to protect the alveoli from the dust. Luckily, the alveoli are protected by scavenger cells called macrophages. The macrophages play an important key role in the lungs as they keep the alveoli clean by virtually swallowing the particles – exactly like in the old time favourite Packman game, eating up the enemy. The macrophages then reach the airways that are covered in cilia and the wavelike motion of the cilia removes the macrophages (which contain dust) to the throat where they are excreted again.

    Another system of removing dust from the lungs is the presence of proteins that remove germ-bearing particles. These proteins attach to the germ-bearing particles and neutralise the germs.

    Properties and health effects of dust

    Dust is formed of solid particles generated by crushing, grinding, milling, drilling, demolition, shovelling, conveying, bagging, sweeping, rapid impacting, or heating of metals. Fumes are formed when metals are heated up above their boiling point, forming dust particles the size of 0 – 1 and 1 micron in size. Particles above 10 microns in diameter cannot be breathed into the deeper parts of the lungs and are therefore not respirable, as respirable particles are smaller than 10 microns in diameter. Dust particles are usually in the size range of 1 – 100 microns in diameter. Dust also settles slowly under the influence of gravity and under its own weight, but it can remain suspended for some time. Dust differs in shape and size and the difference in shape and size of the dust will determine how the particles will behave in an airborne state, as well as the time that it will take for the dust particles to settle to the ground in calm air

    Dust particles that are small enough to stay airborne may be inhaled; however, the probability of inhalation depends on the particle's aerodynamic diameter, the air movement around the person and the breathing rate of the person. The hair cells in the nose and the mucus membranes in the tracheobronchial airway region may clear the dust particles and prevent them from entering the lungs.

    “the probability of inhalation of dust particles depends on the particle's aerodynamic diameter, the air movement and the breathing rate of the person"

    Smaller particles of less than 10 microns in size, however, may enter the deeper parts of the lungs and penetrate the alveolar region. And it is with this particle size that occupational health practitioners are concerned if it is not exhaled again.

    Fibres behave differently from other dust particles in their penetration into the lungs; fine fibres of up to 100 microns have been found in the lungs of people. It is the diameter of the fibre, and not its length, which governs its ability to penetrate the lung.

    When dust particles are deposited in the body, they have the potential to cause harm within the body. The longer the particles remain inside the body the greater the potential to cause harm. That is why the respirable fraction of dust poses the greatest hazard to cause possible airway disease. This includes crystalline silica, coal dust, metal fumes and many others. Free silica can occur in three crystalline forms, i.e. quartz, tridymite and cristobalite. Quartz is the most common as it occurs in rocks such as granite, sandstone, flint, certain coals, metallic ores and many others.

    Total inhalable dust (PNOS)

    The toxicity of the effect of dust in the lungs depends on the nature of the dust particulates i.e. if the dust is fibrogenic or non-fibrogenic.

    Fibrogenic dust is the dust that reduces the scavenger cells (the cells that “eat up the dust”) in the lungs resulting in the replacement of active lung tissue by inactive dead cells. Fibrogenic dust is therefore biologically active and reduces the lung volume or capacity. This is tested by the medical staff when they do the lung function test. Examples of fibrogenic dust are free crystalline silica and asbestos dust.

    Non-fibrogenic dust is an inert dust which has very little or even no effect on the lung tissues and are thus biologically inactive. It is also called nuisance dust and contains less than 1% quartz. Nonfibrogenic dust can accumulate in the lungs as the little scavenger cells cannot eat up the dust quickly enough if the exposure rate is too high.

    When the dust exposure is so high that that the scavenger cells cannot do their work properly, and the dust starts to accumulate in the lung it causes a dusty lung called pneumoconiosis. The lung changes in pneumoconiosis range from simple dust deposition such as iron dust that can be seen on an x-ray but with no clinical manifestations; to conditions with impairment in lung function (exposure to flax dust or cotton dust); to the more serious fibrotic lung disease such as silicosis caused by free crystalline silica dust. Pneumoconiosis that is caused by crystalline silica dust is called silicosis. Another example of pneumoconiosis is the coal workers’ pneumoconiosis that is caused by coal dust exposure.

    Respirable dust

    Respirable dust is the fraction of airborne particulates that are between 0.1 and 5 microns in size that can enter the gaseous exchange region, i.e. the alveoli of the lungs. Respirable dust is responsible for the development of any form of pneumoconiosis (a dusty lung).

    Metal fumes

    When metals are heated up to temperatures above their melting points metal fumes are produced. A fume is 0.1 – 1 micron in size thus making it a respirable fraction. Many types of metal fumes can cause cancer like nickel and chromium and others can cause systemic poisoning like manganese and cadmium. Inhalation of metal fumes can also cause a condition called metal fume fever.

    Other health effects

    Many dusts like silica, asbestos, wood dust and nickel-bearing dusts may cause lung cancer. Furthermore, there is a strong synergistic effect between cigarette smoking and certain airborne dusts like asbestos dust, which increases the potential risk for lung cancer enormously.

    Types of airborne pollutants

    Airborne pollutants refer to the following:
  • Dusts
  • Smokes
  • Fumes
  • Mists
  • Gases
  • Vapours
  • Fungi
  • Bacteria
  • Algae
  • Viruses

    Airborne pollutants are generally grouped based on their physical properties as:
  • Dusts
  • Fumes
  • Mists
  • Gasses
  • Vapours


    Dusts are generated during cutting, grinding, crushing, rapid impact and cracking through heat exposure of organic or inorganic substances such as rock, ore, coal, wood or metal. The particles that are generated by these processes may be so small and they collide with air molecules that they do not always move in the expected direction, i.e. downwards. Factors like air density and viscosity as well as the aerodynamic size and speed of this airborne dust particle all play a role in the time that this dust particle will take to settle on the ground or stay airborne. A dust particle underground in a mine in still air, for instance, can take 10 hours to settle compared to visible road dust that can settle in about five seconds.

    Examples of inorganic dusts are silica, asbestos, and coal. Organic dusts originate from plants or animals. Grain dust is an example of organic dust. One needs to keep in mind that organic dust can contain several other hazardous substances, for example fungi, microbes and the toxic substances given off by microbes. Dust can also come from dyes, pesticides and other organic chemicals. One needs to keep in mind which will be the target organ as not all dust will cause fibrosis or allergic reactions to the lungs. Chemical dusts may cause other acute toxic effects like cancer.


    Fumes are solid particles generated by condensation from the gaseous state (like when cold metals are heated up during the welding process, generating welding fumes) generally after volatilisation from molten metals (or at a furnace area). When metals are involved (furnace or welding) the process is often interlinked with a process of oxidation, meaning that the metallic fumes present in the air are partly in the form of an oxide.


    Mist can be formed during spraying operations. Mists consist of small liquid droplets that are generated by condensation from the gaseous state or even by the breaking-up of a liquid into a dispersed (sprinkling / spraying) state.


    Gases completely fill the containers in which they are kept and are formless, diffusing liquids and can only be transformed to the liquid state by the combined effect of increased pressure and decreased temperature.


    Vapours will diffuse in the air or when exposed to any other gas. A vapour is the gaseous phase of a substance that, under ordinary conditions, exists as a liquid or a solid and which can be transformed to the liquid phase either by increasing the pressure or decreasing the temperature alone. For example, water vapour is responsible for humidity. Perfume contains chemicals that vaporise at different temperatures.


    Matter describes anything that has weight. All matter can be separated into three divisions: solid, liquid and gas. Whether matter will appear in a solid, liquid or gaseous phase will depend on a combination of temperature, pressure and volume.

    The most familiar example of liquid is water. But water can also exist as solid ice, liquid water or a gaseous water vapour.

    A gas may be a completely elastic fluid, which does not become a liquid or a solid at ordinary temperatures. Gases do not have any specific shape, but instead take on the shape of the container. Gas is also compressible and exacts a pressure on the walls of the container which is expressed in Kilo Pascals. People must be prevented from breathing in gases by following safety instructions and confined space entry instructions of working areas where gasses are used or can form as a by-product of the production process. Employees working in such areas must also be trained in recue procedures and first aid procedures.

    As detailed below, gasses can be grouped into four categories: irritant, simple asphyxiant, chemical asphyxiant, and anaesthetics and narcotics.


    Examples are ammonia, nitrogen dioxide, chlorine, fluorine and so on. They are irrespirable to a considerable extent and many cause immediate irritation when they react with body tissue, resulting in coughing and sneezing.

    Simple asphyxiant

    Examples are helium, nitrogen, hydrogen, acetylene, argon and carbon dioxide. These gasses are physiologically inert and do not react with body tissue. Simple asphyxiants act principally by dilution of the atmospheric oxygen below the percentage required to maintain the oxygen saturation of the blood that is sufficient for normal respiration. Where the concentration of oxygen inhaled in air falls below the normal level of 20%, up to 95% of symptoms of oxygen deprivation may be expected in a person. A person can tolerate oxygen concentrations up to 18%; below 16% distress occurs, below 11% a person becomes unconscious, and breathing stops at oxygen concentrations below 6%. Note that the carbon dioxide in the blood will remain constant, giving the brain no warning that the body is receiving less oxygen than required, therefore overcoming the victim suddenly without any warning.

    Chemical asphyxiant

    Examples are hydrogen sulphide, hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide. These chemicals do not cause a lack of oxygen by excluding oxygen from the lungs, but prevent the blood from transporting oxygen from the lungs to the body tissues. They can also prevent normal oxygenation of tissues even though the blood is well oxygenated. These three noxious gasses combine with iron in the cells of the blood and / or body thereby inhibiting cell respiration. They act promptly even if only present in tiny amounts in the air.

    Anaesthetics and narcotics

    Ethers, esters and acetylene hydrocarbons exert their principal action as simple anaesthesia, without serious bodily harm. These chemicals have a depressant action on the central nervous system which is regulated by their concentration in the brain.

    Protecting the lungs from inhalation hazards

    The employer shall ensure that the worker is protected from breathing in harmful dust through implementing hierarchies of control. The first consideration should always be to substitute the hazardous substance with a non-hazardous substance. If not possible, engineering methods should be considered, for example wet process to refrain dust from becoming airborne, extraction ventilation at the generation point, etc. Respiratory protection should be selected according to the hazard. Employees should be sent for medical surveillance according to the recommendations of the Occupational Medical Practitioner.



  • San Francisco — Attorneys general of 10 states and the District of Columbia are suing the Environmental Protection Agency and its administrator, Andrew Wheeler, over the agency’s refusal to issue a rule to further regulate asbestos – a known human carcinogen.

    In a lawsuit filed June 28 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the plaintiffs contend that EPA’s April 30 denial of their Jan. 31 petition urging the agency to implement a reporting rule mandating data on asbestos use and importation is “arbitrary, capricious and not in accordance” with requirements under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

    The plaintiffs assert that data provided under possible additional regulation would allow EPA to better “assess the potential hazards and exposure pathways of asbestos” while using the “best available science” in its evaluations.

    “Given EPA’s understanding of asbestos and reporting, EPA does not believe that the requested reporting requirements would collect the data the petitioners believe the agency lacks,” EPA states in its response to the petition.

    “Asbestos is a known carcinogen that kills tens of thousands of people every year,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a July 1 press release, “yet the Trump administration is choosing to ignore the very serious health risks it poses for our residents. We urge the court to order EPA to issue this new rule to help protect workers, families and children from this toxic chemical.”

    Healey and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra are listed as lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit. They are joined by attorneys general from Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia.

    In April, EPA released a final “significant new use” rule the agency said is intended to keep manufacturers from reintroducing “discontinued uses” of asbestos. The rule, which went into effect June 24, established a review process requiring agency approval for entities seeking to start or resume uses that include – but aren’t limited to – adhesives, sealants, and roof and non-roof coatings; arc chutes; millboard; reinforced plastics; roofing felt; and vinyl-asbestos floor tile.

    EPA states that the rule doesn’t impact the prohibited uses of asbestos covered in a 1989 partial ban.

    In March, lawmakers reintroduced legislation in both the House and Senate renewing a call for a complete federal ban of asbestos, a long-standing effort of Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM). The bill is named for the late Alan Reinstein, who died from mesothelioma in 2006 and whose wife, Linda, now heads the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.

    On July 12, the coalition of attorneys general who filed suit against EPA, along with colleagues from six other states, sent a letter to the leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee calling for bicameral support of the legislation.

    “The protections afforded by the Reinstein bill are necessary now because EPA clearly has demonstrated that it is unable and unwilling to use its authority under TSCA to address the unreasonable risks of injury to health and the environment posed by asbestos,” the letter states.


    llumination is a work place hazard that is often overlooked and is influenced by so many other non-workplace exposures that it is difficult to pin point the actual culprit when it comes to making a diagnosis on eye disease. The reason being, that it is difficult to quantify the difference between workplace light exposure and non-workplace light exposure.

    Light is defined as the visible part of the electromagnetic radiation within a range of 380-780 nm. In humans (as in the case of all mammals), light acts directly on the retina of the eye to fulfil both visual function and non-image forming tasks. Visual function There are two types of photoreceptors in the human retina called rods and cones. Rods are responsible for scotopic (low light level) vision and do not medicate colour vision and have a low spatial acuity. Cones are responsible for photopic (higher light level) vision and are capable of colour vision and responsible for high spatial acuity. Non-image forming tasks Non-image forming tasks include: synchronisation of the circadian rhythms to a 24-hour solar cycle; pineal melatonin suppression; and pupil light reflexes. Very bright light, like staring into the sun – even if just for a short period of time – can cause permanent damage to the retina. On the other hand, if the light is not so bright, permanent retinal damage may occur from chronic exposure. Chronic exposure is caused by what is called Photo-oxidative damage, when the light reacts with the retina producing reactive molecules that cause damage to the surrounding molecules. Blue light exposure increases the risk of agerelated macular degeneration (AMD). Blue light has a short wavelength with a range of 460-500 nm. Artificial light sources emit more blue light than natural solar light.

    Modern society has increased its exposure to artificial illumination, causing changes in both the light/dark cycle and light wavelengths and intensities. This artificial illumination is also referred to as light pollution and may have a strong impact on people’s health, as it may produce retinal degeneration because of photoreceptor or retinal pigment epithelium cell death. Light pollution can be found all over in private homes, the work environment, the social environment – even the streets are illuminated at night. Urban development leads to an increased use of baby lights, televisions, computers, light produced by mobile phones and tablets, light bulbs, etc. and is constantly growing daily as the population demand increases.

    Environmental brightness plays a major role in the synchronisation of human circadian rhythms to solar light-dark cycles. Interference with the environmental light-dark cycle can cause abnormal circadian rhythms and may result in dysfunctionality in the human psychological and physiological mechanisms. Excessive night time illumination could interrupt the normal sleep patterns of a person, thus decreasing total sleep time and sleep efficiency with an increase in REM sleep. REM sleep refers to that portion of sleep when there is rapid eye movement (REM); a person typically has three to five periods of REM sleep per night. Too much REM sleep can leave a person feeling tired the next day. Ocular fatigue results from intolerance of the human eyes to excess light exposure and is even more aggravated by blue light. Ocular fatigue, also known as eye strain, manifests as a combination of eye discomfort and visual impairment. Tired eyes, blurry eyes, itchy eyes, burning eyes or increase in teary eyes are all symptoms of ocular fatigue. Continuous exposure to relatively low ambient luminance of 5-10 lux during sleep, significantly increased ocular fatigue in the morning.

    Sun damage

    Exposure to sunlight can cause inflammation of the eyes as a result of UV ray exposure and is called photokeratitis. Arc welding, as well as reflections from the sun on concrete, water, sand or snow can also cause photokeratitis. UV ray exposure to the cornea of the eye causes photokeratitis.

    However, should the UV rays affect the retina of the eye, the risk is greater of getting permanent visual deficits. One should also keep in mind that indoor halogen and fluorescent lightbulbs emit ultraviolet light to a certain extent.

    Cumulative UV radiation due to sunlight exposure can cause damage to the eyes and eyesight over time. UV radiation is invisible to the human eye and is composed of three main wavelengths: UVA, UVB and UVC. UVB rays are absorbed by the cornea and cannot reach the retina, but UVA radiation passes through the cornea to the lens and retina. As discussed above, the short-term exposure to high doses of UV radiation can cause photokeratitis, but it can also lead to a condition known as photoconjunctivitis.

    The long-term effects of sunlight exposure to the eyes are the possibility of developing cataracts, pterygium, pingueculae, squamous cell cancer of the conjunctiva, skin cancer of the areas surrounding the eyes and even macular degeneration. Each of these conditions are discussed in short below.


    Although cataracts are related to ageing, one of the causes is UV ray exposure over time. As one ages and the lens of the eye grows older, the cells of the lens die and accumulate over time, turning the lens yellowed and cloudy. Cataracts can be treated surgically.


    Pterygium is a soft fleshy overgrowth of the conjunctiva that starts in the medial corner of the eye near the nose. It is usually painless, but if it grows across the cornea it causes visual impairment. Should visual impairment occur, it should be surgically removed.


    Pingueculae is like pterygium, as above, but it will not grow across the cornea.

    Squamous cell cancer of the conjunctiva

    Squamous cell cancer appears as a nodule on the front of the eye and there may be visible blood vessels leading to the nodule. It is a slow growing tumour that may result in loss of sight. Advancedstage squamous cell cancer of the conjunctiva can be treated surgically, and an extensive surgical approach is sometimes inevitable. Early detection is core.

    Skin cancer

    Skin cancers around the eyes, especially on the eyelids are common in sunny countries with high UV exposure indexes. Any spots, moles or other lesions around the eyes should always be examined by a doctor or dermatologist. Some lesions can be benign, and others may be malignant or cancerous, therefore it is important to seek medical advice should growths on the eyelids or around the eyes be detected.

    Macular degeneration

    As long-term UVA is responsible for most of the damage to the macula, one should seek medical attention as soon as blurred vision or no vision at all occurs in the centre vision field of the eye(s). The disease rarely affects the peripheral or side vision. As with cataracts, macular degeneration is an age-related condition, but can be exacerbated by exposure to UV rays. Macular degeneration cannot be reversed; however, progression can be slowed by therapeutic approaches.

    As one can see from the aforementioned medical eye conditions (that can be caused by UV ray exposures), employers should issue employees working in the sun (or where there is a possibility of UV ray exposure) with eye wear that protect the employees’ eyes from such exposure.

    Blue light

    Blue light is everywhere. The sun, television sets, computers, laptops, smart phones and tablets, fluorescent and LED lighting are all sources of blue light. However, one needs to distinguish between natural blue light and artificial blue light. When the light from the sun travels through the atmosphere, the shorter, high energy blue wavelengths collide with the air molecules causing the blue light to scatter everywhere, resulting in the air looking “blue”. The body’s circadian rhythms use this natural form of blue light to regulate the natural sleep and wake cycles. Natural blue light therefore comes from the sun and helps boost alertness, heighten reaction times and increases the overall feeling of wellbeing. Artificial light sources are humanly created devices like cell phones, laptop computers, energy efficient fluorescent bulbs and LED lights.

    As explained above, blue light is shorter in wavelength, in fact, it is among the shortest, highest energy wavelengths in the visible light spectrum. Blue light, also called High Energy Visible (HEV) wavelengths flicker more easily than longer, weaker wavelengths; creating a glare that can reduce visual contrast and affect sharpness and clarity. This results in the eyestrain, headaches, and physical and mental fatigue that is caused by sitting in front of computer screens or other electronic devices for extended periods of time. The human eye does not provide enough protection against blue light, be it natural or artificial. Prolonged exposure to blue light may cause retinal damage and macular degeneration that can lead to vision loss.

    The beneficial effects of natural blue light can be summarised as follows:

  • It helps regulate the circadian rhythm of the body
  • It boosts alertness
  • It helps with increased memory and cognitive function
  • It can elevate the mood of a person

    Some of the harmful effects of artificial blue light can be summarised as follows:

  • It disrupts circadian rhythms and can keep a person awake at night if exposed to blue light before bedtime
  • It can lead to digital eyestrain syndrome: blurry vision, dry and irritated eyes, headaches, neck and back pain and difficulty focusing may be some of the symptoms
  • It can increase certain types of cancers

    Both natural and artificial blue light may cause permanent eye damage and may contribute to age-related macular degeneration. Hazard identification

    Hazards that need to be assessed must include:

  • UV rays
  • Bright light
  • Blue light
  • Insufficient light
  • Glare

    Improper contrast:

  • Identify areas with great differences in light levels
  • Identify objects that are hard to distinguish from the background
  • Identify reading material where it is hard to make out the print or characters from the background

    Poorly distributed light:

  • Identify dark areas or areas of uneven lighting
  • Shadows on the work surface and stairways
  • Flicker
  • Improper fixture placement based on the luminaire's spacing criteria
  • Workers complaining of eye strain after a day’s work
  • Visual discomfort when tasks require frequent shifting of view from underlit to higher illuminated areas
  • Stroboscopic effect of lighting on rotating machinery
  • General cleanliness of luminaires and lamps
  • Emergency evacuation routes conforms to minimum lux of not less than 0.3 at floor level and are capable of being activated within 15 seconds of electricity failure. It should also be capable to last long enough to ensure safe evacuation of all indoor workers.

    Protecting the eyes from damage caused by lighting

    When working in the sun or other places where UV ray exposure may be possible, a person should wear sunglasses and a hat to protect them from possible retinal damage. SPF should be applied to the eyelid areas when constantly working in the sun, as this sensitive area around the skin is where ten percent of skin cancers occur.

    As blue light can also cause retinal damage, ophthalmologists can now offer blue-blocking lens implants when cataract surgery is performed. This should be discussed with the treating physician prior to the cataract surgery.

    Indoor lightbulbs must be swapped for UV-free bulbs like incandescent and LED bulbs. Insufficient light

    Insufficient light may pose a safety hazard but can also affect the quality of work, especially if precision work is required. Poor lighting can also cause eye strain leading to discomfort and other health related complaints like headaches.

    When assessing how much light is needed for different situations and activities, the following should be taken into consideration:

  • The demands for speed and accuracy of the task being done
  • Is the surface reflecting or absorbing the light?
  • What does the general work area look like?
  • What is the individual’s vision acuity? Adequate general lighting is usually between 500 and 1,000 lux (lumens per square metre) when measured at 76 centimetres (or 30 inches) above the floor.

    In South Africa, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Act 85 of 1993 provides the minimum average values of maintained illuminance in different workplaces under the Environmental Regulations for Workplaces. One can also refer to IESNA Lighting Handbook: Illuminating Engineering Society of North America for guidelines on workplace illuminance.


    Glare is a term that is used when a bright light source or reflection interferes with how a person sees an object. In most cases, a person’s eyes will adapt to “insufficient light may pose a safety hazard but can also affect the quality of work, especially if precision work is required” the brightest level of light causing eye strain and decreasing a person’s ability to see as the details in the duller or darker areas become faint.

    There are two types of glare:

  • Reflected glare
  • Direct glare

    Reflected glare is caused by the following:

  • Light that is reflected from shiny or polished surfaces
  • Glass
  • Monitors and screens

    Direct glare is caused by the following:

  • Sunlight
  • Very bright light shining from poorly positioned light fixtures

    Improper contrast

    Contrast is the relationship between the luminance of an object and its background. Contrast problems occurs because of one of two reasons:

  • If there are different light levels from one area to another, and
  • If there is contrast between the colours of objects

    The immediate work area should be brighter than the surrounding working area to prevent the worker’s attention from being distracted away from the work area.

    Poorly distributed light

    When parts of the ceiling and/or general surroundings seem dark and gloomy, one can assume that light is poorly distributed causing workers to have trouble in visual acuity or to see properly. To correct this, one should replace light fixtures with ones that distribute some light upwards, paint the ceiling and walls in light colours that will reflect the light and clean the ceilings, walls and light fixtures on intervals depending on the type of environment. Some environments may need more regular cleaning than others.

    Approved Inspection Authority

    For an employer to ensure that the working environment is safe and does not pose any risks towards the health of its employees pertaining to illumination in the workplace, the employer must measure the employees’ exposure and compare these results with prescribed standards on illuminance. This “monitoring” process must be done by an Approved Inspection Authority (AIA). Two types of illuminance should be measured:

  • Luminous flux (measured in lumens) as a measure of the total “amount” of visible light present; and
  • The illuminance as a measure of intensity of illumination on a surface

    Illumination surveys should include conducting day and night-time surveys as well as test the efficiency of emergency illumination installations. The AIA will measure the lighting levels with a lux meter and provide the employer with a report on the measurements with recommendations after completion of the surveys.

    Good lighting increases productivity and is an important factor in assessing general health and safety in the workplace. Illumination risk assessment should form part of the health, safety and environmental risk assessment of a company and objectives and targets should flow from the risk assessment depending on the outcome of the assessment.



  • by Carla Sertin 26 Jul 2019Read More
    Cuts and lacerations are common workplace injuries. In fact, about 30% of all workplace injuries involve cuts or lacerations, and approximately 70% of those are to the hands or fingers, according to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

    These injuries can range from minor abrasions that require first aid to serious or life-threatening puncture wounds, deep lacerations or amputation injuries.

    How workers get hurt

    A cut or laceration can occur a number of ways on the job. A worker may use the wrong tool for the job or a tool that’s in poor condition. Or, he or she might be working on a machine that has missing or improperly adjusted guards. Poor lighting, clutter and debris also can play a part, as can lack of training, working too fast, failure to wear proper personal protective equipment and not following safety procedures.

    Keep them safe

    Employers need to establish work procedures to identify and control worker exposure to cut and laceration hazards, Ohio BWC states. Tips from the bureau include:

  • Use the right tool for the job. Inspect it thoroughly before starting work.
  • Make sure the tool is secure at all times while cutting, and never hold the item being cut in your hand. Keep the non-cutting hand clear of the path of the cut.
  • Ensure blades are sharp – dull blades require more force to use, thus increasing the risk of incidents.
  • Wear necessary PPE, including eyewear, gloves and long-sleeved shirts.
  • Never use a cutting blade as a screwdriver, pry bar or chisel.
  • Don’t leave exposed blades unattended, and keep tools with blades in a closed position when not in use.
  • Use a separate drawer for sharp tools.



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