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Keep fit testing top of mind in Decembeard

15.11.23 · News

Commercial insurance broker and wood industry specialist, McCarron Coates, is warning companies to beware the month of Decembeard and stay on top of health and safety.

The broker says woodworking companies, relying on workers wearing RPE due to being unable to control wood dust using LEV systems, need to be alert. Any involvement of workers in the Decembeard annual charity event, could compromise their health protection.

Facial hair, in terms of stubble or beards, does not mix with most RPE worn by workers in the sector.  If employers have fulfilled their legal obligations, all staff should have had their RPE equipment’s efficacy confirmed by a fit test.  If they suddenly grow facial hair, that will lift the RPE off the face, allowing contaminated air to enter the respirator.

Employers who had carried out previous fit tests would find those tests of little or no use and would have to re-examine situations.  As McCarron Coates points out, a hood or helmet might have to be provided instead and the changes in RPE, and reasons for them, well documented.

The broker stresses that employers must remember the obligation to record fit testing and keep records for at least five years.  Such testing should be handled by a competent person, typically an RPE supplier or someone sourced through the fit2fit website.

Rather than have to organise new fit testing and supply new equipment, McCarron Coates suggests woodworking employers simply offer to donate to the Decembeard fundraising effort, which raises valuable money for Bowel Cancer UK. They should also explain the reasons to employees, underlining why RPE has to work effectively and be worn correctly, to prevent the harmful diseases caused by wood dust.

This includes asthma, which wood industry workers are four times more likely to suffer, if unprotected.

McCarron Coates director, Luigi Maggio, says, “We are urging woodworking companies to not allow their health and safety protection to slip, simply because they are trying to do a good thing and allow workers to raise money for charity.  Having a well-fitted mask, which suits the face size and shape of the individual employee, is essential.

“Any respirator must also provide an assigned protection factor (APF) of at least 20, according to HSE guidelines, and must be CE or UKCA marked.  This level of protection is often not enough, so employers should consider the type of work being undertaken and the duration of the work, before deciding whether a disposable respirator, otherwise known as Filtering Facepiece, is sufficient protection.”

Compliance demands that fit test records detail facts including the name of the person fit-tested, the make, model, material and size of the respirator, the date of the test and the name of the person who conducted it.  The serial number and details of any equipment used when conducting the test should also be recorded.

With the requirement to keep this information for 5 years, it is also necessary to ensure the data is held and stored securely, potentially with a back-up copy, in case one set of compliance evidence is destroyed or lost.

If you need help with your risk management or insurance arrangements in your wood sector business, you can tap into the expertise of BWF (British Woodworking Federation) member, McCarron Coates.  Just call the broker on 0113 298 3489.  More information is available at