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Safety Equipment

Discusses safety equipment and in particular your brain as your most important piece of safety equipment. We give you a checklist for assessing the situation and to keep you safe.

Erasmus Erasmus : A friend grew up in an era when it was unmanly to use safety equipment. Men working would routinely avoid eye protection/ear protection and even wearing gloves. He remembers being on an army camp when one of these men – yelled in pain and alarm when a splinter from a tent pole pricked his hand. There was not even a blood spot to see later at the prick site.

The same idiot dropped the tent pole with its canvas drapings, narrowly missing other workers on site. The pole and canvas together weighed around 100 kg. My friend always wore gloves on site to minimise the risk of hand injuries. He was quite upset that the “manly” fellow holding the tent pole could well have caused someone serious injury or even death, just because he didn’t want to wear gloves.

Goo the Numbat Goo : Safety equipment is for the individual. But it also protects the people/workers around the individual. Why suffer an injury – even if it’s just a big splinter – when it can all be avoided? Why risk permanent damage – when it could be avoided? Why endanger others – when there is no reason to put anyone else at risk?

Safety EquipmentSafety Equipment

Erasmus Erasmus : In Australia, the workplace safety barometer has shifted 180°. Safety gear is mandated in many places. Another acquaintance worked at a metal fabricating shop. One of the presses was mandated to include a number of safety features – guards and safety guides. Unfortunately, the “press” was now so safe – that it could not be used. Workers dismantled the guards – otherwise the machine was unusable. You were unable to feed metal into the press.

Another acquaintance at a worksite marveled at how much easier cutting was, when the guard on a circular saw was removed. He enjoyed using his “modified” circular saw. Unfortunately for him, he placed his saw on the ground after cutting some timber. The blade was still spinning and there was no guard on the circular saw. The circular saw took off – walking across the newly laid parquetry floor – creating havoc and torn timber pieces as it moved.

Some bits of safety equipment work all too well – like the guard on a circular saw. Unfortunately, it can be very easy to forget about safety features even being there (or not being there), with disastrous consequences. And each bit of inattention is a potential accident

Workplace Health and Safety in Australia
Workplace Health and Safety in Australia

Kinkajou Kinkajou :Imagine a world where guns did not have a safety catch. People would be shooting themselves all the time. A simple solution would then be to not load the gun unless you are using it, but that’s hardly an adequate solution for a soldier in a combat zone. If the weapon was loaded but not used, then the weapon would have to go through a moderately complex unload sequence.
Magazine off.
Unload/check gun/check chamber and barrel.
Pick up bullet and reload magazine – being careful not to load dirt into the gun.

And needing to go through this sort of routine would create other hazards as well. My friend remembers another soldier who was thinking that his rifle was unloaded. He decided to check if the rifle was loaded by staring down its muzzle. I can see the problems in this scenario quite easily. One bump and game over. Bullet comes out of muzzle of gun into the eye staring down the barrel.

Goo the Numbat Goo : Ugly!


Erasmus Erasmus : Another friend remembers being on a building site. One of the contractors brought his son on site and asked the builder to give him a job. The son was well prepared with all the good safety equipment – boots/gloves/and high visibility clothing with long sleeved shirts. The builder told the kid “Go over there and bang some nails into that post – so I can assess how well you are able to work. After the kid had been tapping away for a minute or two, the builder yelled at him – “hit those nails harder.” The kid promptly swung the hammer back for a big blow – striking himself in the forehead in the process and knocking himself unconscious. It created quite a conflict between the builder and the contractor. The builder was copping the blame for not being safe.

Safety has swung to the point that it is the guy in charge who is always at fault, not the idiot at fault.

Kid with Hammer
Kid with Hammer


Kinkajou Kinkajou : Yes. I have been on some worksites where some people have to be watched like hawks to stop them getting themselves injured as a result of their own stupidity.

Goo the Numbat Goo : So, what’s the moral of the story?
Erasmus Erasmus : Safety equipment lets people be manly. The gloves or equipment collect the injury and the person soldiers on regardless.
The biggest piece of safety equipment you have is your brain. Use it.
Before walking into a situation – consider – what hazards are there? How can I avoid these hazards? Likely you will work out the safe thing to do 95% of the time. Generally, the main risks – are the most obvious ones.

Kinkajou Kinkajou : So, let’s talk about some of the safety equipment.
Erasmus Erasmus : Glasses:. A myriad of types of glasses is available. Getting safety glasses with an all-lens correction is however more difficult. Most safety glasses just have a single spot where there is corrected vision available. The remainder of the glasses are essentially neutral glass/polycarbonate. These sorts of glasses are quite adequate for many people. And the high light intensity in the daytime – constricts your pupils and improves your vision considerably.

However, some people do like to have good vision over a broad field/range. It is actually quite easy to order safety glasses with a formula. It can be expensive if you source your glasses through your optometrist – in the western world. If you have your formula however – you can organise to purchase lenses online – for example on Ali Express in China. And if the cost is not excessive – you could also add chromatrophic lenses which darken in the sun, or polarised and tinted lenses for improved sun protection.

Goo the Numbat Goo : The key issue though is you need to have the glasses “formula”. To get it, generally all you need top do is to ask your optometrist for it.

Erasmus Erasmus : Often wearing only ONE pair of glasses is not adequate/not safe. A friend who uses “dirty” tools always wears a pair of safety glasses and a facemask/ear protection combo. The two main dirty tools – are garden snippers and grinders. Grinders especially if cutting or grinding metal throw out a lot of metal sparks. Fragments can go absolutely anywhere and everywhere. Fragments are so common and so penetrating, that double protection is the only safe path – no matter how annoying or uncomfortable.

Glasses plus face shield is a good safe combination for temporary use. But if someone was forced to use this combination at work for a substantial amount of time through their working day, double combos may not be a practical solution for many workers requiring many hours of protection throughout a single working day. The pressure on the glasses from the muffs can become quite painful, quite quickly at the point where the arm of the glasses sits against the ear.

Kinkajou Kinkajou : Dust can be a considerable hazard and will definitely sneak around your safety glass protection. It is a good idea to have access to something you can use to give your eyes a rinse to remove dust. When you are working you are usually dirty and may not have access to easy ways to look at your own eyes. Having clean water around, able to give your eyes a rinse can be a real “eye saver.” Tap water is OK if you can get a gentle flow over your eyes. There are little eye cups made that can hold water and you can put over your eyes to wash while blinking.

Dust at a Worksite
Dust at a Worksite



Kinkajou Kinkajou : Next type of safety equipment: ear protection.
Erasmus Erasmus : Sound and high intensity will blast/flatten the hair cells of the inner ear, causing temporary hearing deterioration. Prolonged exposure to noise will permanently damage the hair cells – causing what is called a sensory pattern of hearing loss. This pattern of hearing loss has a “gap” in the hearing spectrum, matching the frequency of the excessive ambient noise.

And noisy environments are not necessarily “evenly” noisy. For example, some machines may produce a super sound intensity at a particular harmonic frequency – causing hearing damage at that same specific harmonic frequency. People work in a noisy environment – but they think it’s not really that noisy. But there can be just a single spike of sound wave energy at a particular frequency – well able to cause damage at that particular frequency. The rest of the sound spectrum may be much less harmful to hearing, having reduced intensity in dB.

Next let’s consider the combination of earmuffs and face shield with glasses. Earmuffs can press down hard enough to cause actual physical pain from the wearing glasses. Wearing two levels of glasses can indeed be difficult. Unfortunately, No one makes earmuffs that are “glasses friendly”.


Goo the Numbat Goo : Intriguing. Who would have ever thought that in the world of 8 billion people, there’s something simple ubiquitous and problematic that no one has designed a solution for.

Kinkajou Kinkajou : Next piece of safety equipment: gloves.
Erasmus Erasmus : There are many different types of gloves with different levels of protection. The key problem with using gloves though is in the loss of dexterity associated with wearing them. There are many glove designs which attempt to overcome “dexterity” issues. There are “slim fit” gloves, there are gloves with open fingertips and there are gloves with different levels of padding in different parts of the glove structure.

You should be able to choose something relatively suitable.

Kinkajou Kinkajou : Let’s talk about some other hazards. For example, electrical hazards.
Erasmus Erasmus : Most people working outside have not considered using an
earth leakage safety switch. But this is simple to include in the work routine. In the event of a short circuit such as in an electrocution, the switch turns the current off.

Having an indicator light in the female electric plug end, makes it very easy to tell when the power cord is alive. Being careful to pull out or insert plugs is an obvious safety necessity. One acquaintance always tries to keep in mind the position of his hands on the plug. If his hands were to slip – it is possible to contact the electric cord prong – exposing himself 210 V to 240 V of AC current. The frequency and power of mains electrical current is as dangerous as hell. It only takes 5 mA of current at the heart muscle to trigger atrial fibrillation/ventricular fibrillation and death.

One acquaintance has a general safety rule of thumb with electrical equipment. If it is playing up or malfunctioning – dump it. He was Jack hammering up some concrete in the rain and noted a tingle in his hands – while using the electric jackhammer. As we’ve mentioned before, it only takes 5 mA of current at the heart muscle to kill you. Skin resistance is usually of the order of 5000 ohms to 10,000 ohms but can drop down to a couple of hundred ohms if the skin is moist or wet.

As you sweat or if you get wet, faulty electrical equipment becomes even more dangerous.

Goo the Numbat Goo : So, summarising remember that your brain is the most important piece of safety equipment you have. In arriving at any worksite – consider your hazards. Consider how to be safe near your hazards. If the equipment is faulty, repair it or dump it. There is no safety wisdom in using potentially faulty electrical equipment.

Kinkajou Kinkajou : Australian workplaces have extensive training for workplace safety. For example, courses for working with ladders. For example – courses for working with chainsaws, using chainsaw safety equipment such as chaps or gloves or hardhats. But U-tube will give the average person a lot of experience and a lot of safety advice as well. It just takes a time commitment to get the information or to refresh the information.

One fiend cuts down trees when necessary. But he does it so intermittently, that he always does some u-tube refresher videos before operating the machinery, just to get the information fresh in his head.

It takes time and effort to dress up in safety equipment, but it is a priority. You will work harder and stronger and longer if you work safer. Don’t be lazy in using safety equipment.

Erasmus Erasmus : Some tools such as grinders are regarded as unusually dangerous and are banned from many Australian building sites. One acquaintance was using a grinder to cut a door through a concrete wall. There was an almighty bang. He suddenly realised he was holding a tool in each hand. He turned the grinder off and tried to work out what had happened. He must have tilted the grinder as he was cutting. It ripped the handle out of the metal casing of the grinder, leaving him with – a piece of “tool” in each hand. He was very lucky not to have injured himself. The amount of force involved to have ripped a chunk of metal out of the grinder case would have been impressive, he thought.

In Australia, there can also be such a thing as too much safety equipment. The hot environment can be as much of a hazard as the tools themselves. Yes it is possible to cover up. But that makes you heat up and sweat. A friend of mine commented that in one summer he was working outside cleaning a number of roofs. He says he needed to drink 15 L of fluid that day to keep himself hydrated. He wasn’t working particularly hard but it was a particularly hot and humid day in Brisbane.

Another acquaintance was working outside in the sun, doing fence building. One of the other workers would go and have a drink of cold water every half an hour. By 10 o’clock in the morning he was feeling faint and unwell.

The acquaintance told him you are just not drinking enough. You cannot drink cold water quickly. What I drink is water that is essentially environmental temperature – about 28°C. By the time you have had one bottle of 600 ml of cold water to drink, I have drunk 3 to 4 bottles of the same size. You are just not keeping up with the amount of fluid you’re losing in sweating. And it is simply because you cannot drink the water fast enough. Try to skull cold water, just gives you brain freeze, so you don’t do it. But from the amount of sweat loss, you need to.

Remember, that once you are acclimatised to heat, you sweat more, not less. The body’s priority is to maintain an even temperature. Otherwise, once you overheat, your brain stops working properly and you will collapse.

Drinking at Work Drinking at Work

Dr Xxxxx Dr Xxxxx : I have a few basic rules of hydration for hot environments.
Always start the day off with 3 to 4 cups/glasses of fluid. This guarantees that you start the day off hydrated. Drink “at room temperature” water frequently. Sweet drinks do absorb faster than ordinary water but they are harder to drink at speed and in quantity – compared to ordinary tap water or bottled water.

You need to make sure that you can pee at least three times in the course of the average day – full bladders of urine.

At the end of the day when you are about half an hour away from home – drink as much water as you possibly can. If you are peeing out urine at around 40 to 45 minutes, you are hydrated. If you cannot pee out urine at 40 to 45 minutes – you are still dehydrated. Drink more and drink faster. Hot drinks are okay but they tend to make you feel less thirsty. If you have a glass of for example- hot tea – you tend to feel not too thirsty for 30 to 40 minutes. In the same timeframe you would have drunk three or four glasses of water – possibly more. There is nothing wrong with drinking hot drinks but do remember they make you feel less thirsty.

The next golden rule at the end of the day is you’re not allowed to eat until you pee. Once you eat, any fluid added on top of this will take hours to absorb. You will potentially stay dehydrated for quite a number of hours. If you simply follow our golden rule – “you are not allowed to eat until you pee”, you will keep on force drinking water to eventually you reach “hydration” – fluid balance.

As soon as you eat, it can take 6 to 8 hours to absorb your food and fluid, which means you can even be waking up the next morning still dehydrated.

Kinkajou Kinkajou : So, what’s the problem with that?
Dr Xxxxx Dr Xxxxx : Kidney stones. Once you have dehydrated enough and have experienced a kidney stone you will realise that you do not want to go down this road ever again. It hurts. It hurts a lot. And is very easy to avoid.

A general consideration with kidney stones, is that you should not have your main fluid source as fruit juice. Fruit juice contains a number of chemicals which crystallise and come out in the urine. Soft drink is okay. But using fruit juice as the main fluid source is not a good idea. It is okay to have one or two glasses a day, but the main fluid intake should be something else – preferably water. As an aside, soft drink and dilute cordial are OK.

Kinkajou Kinkajou : So, let’s go back to working with tools. Any other suggestions?
Erasmus Erasmus : Yes. If it is possible, always try to have someone around when you are working. An acquaintance pulled back a circular saw he was working with, while cutting some timber. The circular saw jumped out of the cutting groove and sliced across his thigh, missing his femoral artery by millimetres. Had he cut his femoral artery, he would now be bleeding to death at high speed and needing to try to solve the problem of stopping the rapid bleeding. All possible – especially with ambulances in modern cities. But with no one else around you, you will need to solve all the problems for yourself- and quickly too.

Team of Workers: other people around
Team of Workers: other people around

Some problems can be annoying rather than dangerous. An acquaintance was working on a roof. His ladder fell down. There was no one else around. He was stuck on the roof. The only way to get off the roof was to yell and call to neighbours for help. If you tried to climb down using for example a nearby tree – it could work – but it might not. A simple incident like a ladder falling, can force you into doing things you otherwise would never even consider doing – because you have run out of options.

Goo the Numbat Goo : The summary.
Think of what you are doing before you start. What other hazards? What other solutions?
Don’t be lazy. Dress appropriately.

Hydration in hot environments is a major safety issue. It is easy to drink 10 to 15 L per day if working outside on some Brisbane days. If you drink this much, you are fine. But if you fail to drink enough, you rapidly become dehydrated and can collapse.

Be aware of people around you, in case you need to get urgent help.