Article date: 16 October 2008
Exposure to hazardous substances at work can cause serious long-term health problems, warns Norwich Union, part of Aviva.
As part of its latest Simply Safety campaign, the insurer is urging employers to pay attention to the level and duration of exposure to these substances, which can cause suffering for the employee and loss of productivity for employers.
Each year, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) - often triggered by exposure to dusts, gases or fumes - causes 30,000 deaths.1 If these occupational risks were removed from the workplace, the number of deaths would be reduced by around 4,000, according to the insurer.2 Other effects of hazardous substances include eye irritations, asthma and dermatitis.
Phil Grace, liability risk manager at Norwich Union, says: "Hazardous substances can be part of the manufacturing process, for example the raw materials used to make a product, or generated as a by-product formed by work activities, for example cutting fluids in manufacturing.
"There will always be hazardous materials in the work environment such as cleaning fluids and over-exposure to these can be harmful.
"As it is the level and duration of exposure to toxic substances that causes harm, employers must manage the risk appropriately. A risk assessment should be conducted to identify hazardous substances and to consider how great the exposure is."
Grace continues: "Consider all groups of people who could come into contact with the material, for example contractors or other members of staff who visit the area regularly.
"The next step is to decide what precautions are needed. Comparing the controls you already use with HSE guidance is a good idea to check that they are both appropriate and effective.3
"You should consider whether the process or activity could be changed so that the hazardous material is not needed or generated. Could the material be replaced with a safer alternative or used in a safer form, for example, pellets instead of powder?
"Personal protective equipment, such as appropriate respiratory apparatus, can also reduce exposure to hazardous materials, but only as a last resort and never as a replacement for other control measures which are required.
"Once controls are in place, it is important to monitor these measures and ensure that they are maintained. Monitoring exposure and carrying out health surveillance for employees is key."
Grace adds: "Finally, it is important to ensure that your employees are properly informed about the materials they are coming into contact with. Access to material safety data sheets (MSDS) provided by the manufacturer is not enough as it is vital that employers conduct their own risk assessments.
"What really counts is how you implement the manufacturer's guidance and the quantities of the substance, as this is what will determine an employee's exposure to it. Recording assessments will enable you to check details in the future, ensuring that employees are protected from the risk of ill health or disease.
"Employees should always have the correct training to carry out their job and should be supervised properly."
A downloadable guide on the topic of hazardous substances is available at: www.nurs.co.uk/.
Norwich Union Risk Services provides support for dealing with hazardous substances and can deliver tailored safety training courses and consultancy assessments at a client's premises. Visit www.nurs.co.uk/ for more information.
For further information, please contact:
Alex Anderson at Staniforth on 0161 919 8028 or Sally Leeman at Norwich Union on 01603 684225/ 07789 270677.
Notes to editors:
1 NICE 2004, www.hse.gov.uk/copd/index.htm
2 NICE 2004, www.hse.gov.uk/copd/index.htm
About Norwich Union
Norwich Union is the UK's largest general insurer with a market share of around 15%, with a focus on insurance for individuals and small businesses.
It is a leading provider of life, pensions and investment products and one of the largest financial adviser (FA) providers. FAs provide over 70% of the company's long-term savings business in the UK.
Norwich Union's news releases and a selection of images are available from Aviva's internet press centre at www.aviva.com/media
In the summer of 2009 Norwich Union will change its name to Aviva. Aviva is the world's fifth largest insurance group and operates in 27 countries. Aviva is to become the customer brand worldwide, thus enabling the company to compete even more effectively on a global scale for the benefit of customers, staff, business partners and shareholders.