As we’re heading into ‘home improvement season’, Australians tackling their own renovations or repairs may be at risk as some retailers continue to stock personal protective equipment that may fail to meet rigorous Australian Standards for safety and personal protection , confusing consumers, says a leading standards certifier.
Research shows that one in five eye injuries in Australia requiring hospitalisation occur in the home[i], with most incidents reported involving young Australians that could have been prevented with the proper use of appropriate safety equipment[ii]. Additionally, more than 25 per cent of injuries or deaths by poison are unintentional or caused by an unspecified factor[iii].
Understanding the hazards that DIY renovators face, Australia's leader in product safety assurance, SAI Global is warning those who plan to tackle home improvements this spring and summer to be aware when choosing protective gear. With many consumers wrongly assuming that all safety products such as hard hats, safety glasses, respirator masks, hearing protectors, safety harnesses and safety footwear meet mandatory standards, SAI Global is cautioning that this is not always the case.
Richard Donarski, Team Leader Health & Safety - Product Services at SAI Global, says that despite there being Australian Standards (sometimes mandatory) some manufacturers and suppliers may not comply with them, others are totally ignorant, particularly when a product has been developed overseas.
"Products that have not been independently certified to Australian Standards may not have been rigorously tested against potential dangers." says Richard. "In addition, they may have been made by an overseas supplier with limited knowledge around both the product and the potential hazards that are intended to be guarded against. Instructions for the use or how to care for the product are also likely to be poor. "
As a result consumers may, for example, be exposing themselves to injuries to eyes, fingers or toes through cheaply manufactured gloves or safety footwear, serious injuries from falls at heights to long-term illnesses through the inhalation of poisonous gases.
Richard says, "Chemical poisoning through inhalation or skin contact, fragments in the eye, cuts and amputations, skull fractures and even loss of hearing can all be a result of incidents that occur while using non-compliant personal protection equipment. A cheap pair of safety glasses may look okay, but may be unlikely to withstand the pressure of a fragment of steel hurtling through the air at speed. Similarly, a respirator mask may not provide the expected effective barrier to hazardous chemicals or materials you're working with."
SAI Global is continuously working with manufacturers nationally to ensure products on Australian shelves meet rigorous requirements of domestic and international quality and safety standards. Its well-known Five Ticks 'Certified Product' StandardsMark™ is the most-predominant certification mark in DIY personal protection featuring on many thousands of products per year. This mark is an indication to consumers that the product and the manufacturing process have been independently tested against safety criteria set by the relevant Australian Standards®.
Knowing that many Australians will be embarking on DIY home improvements this summer Richard has provided his top tips on how to stay safe.
- Ask an expert. While all equipment looks the same, it doesn't necessarily mean that it does the job. For example, a particular respirator mask may only be compatible with certain chemicals or materials. When unsure, ask the retail staff and provide them with the exact details of what you intend to do. Don't take a gamble, especially when working with tools or chemicals.
- Purchase certified safety equipment only. This equipment will be branded with an appropriate certification mark, the Australian Standard reference, and should include the name of the organisation, the date it was certified and a Certification Licence number. Be aware that not all products that claim to be certified are to an Australian standard. To be safe, look out for the Five Ticks 'Certified Product' StandardsMark™ or enter the Certification Licence number online at http://register.saiglobal.com/ to source further details.
- Be careful when buying second hand. Do you really know what that piece of equipment has been through? For example, a hard hat may look okay, but if it's been left out in the sun every day, the chances are that its protection is nowhere near the level it should be due to strong UV rays, weakening its shell. Additionally, second hand DIY equipment may come with zero instructions. "They're not the kind of equipment that you want to be playing a guessing game with," Richard says.
- Work with a partner. Find a partner who can share a load of the work or observe what you're doing. A second set of eyes can assess risks that you may have initially missed.
- If you're tired, stop. It's tempting to want to continue on a project well into the night, until it's near complete. It's best, however, to allocate yourself time periods where you will work on a project. Ensure that you're feeling refreshed and have a clear head. If you're only a fraction of the way through the job but feel distracted or drowsy, then stop. This is the prime time for mistakes to happen. Clear away any hazards such as cables, tools or debris and start again when you feel able.