See and be seen: keeping engineers safe

Safety is an important part of everyday life, from wearing a seatbelt in a car to waiting for your dinner to cool down before eating your first mouthful, we all take a range of measures to look after ourselves, and it’s the same in the workplace.

Looking through historic photos from the Rochester Bridge Trust archives, we can see that safety standards have changed a lot over the years. When the Old Bridge was built, appropriate work clothing consisted of comfortable trousers and shirt, and a flat cap. Today we take safety much more seriously, with strict principles for the wearing of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

This comes in many shapes and sizes depending on the activity being carried out, and most people will have worn PPE of some kind without necessarily realising, for instance a lab coat and goggles during school science lessons or safety goggles during DT lessons.

The PPE most commonly worn by our engineers consists of high visibility jacket (and often matching trousers), work boots and a hard hat. Depending on the task at hand, they may also be wearing gloves, ear defenders, goggles and a range of other equipment. These are all worn to keep us warm and dry, as well as for their various safety aspects.

The high visibility jacket is important to make sure you are easy to spot in what can at times be a very busy environment. The hard hat protects your head should something drop from a height, and as for the boots, good footwear with a good grip is a must if there’s a risk of slippery ground. Boots need steel mid-soles (under your foot) as well as toecaps to protect your feet if you were to step on something sharp or accidentally catch the front of your foot. They also need to be waterproof to keep your feet warm and dry.

For the more interchangeable items, gloves look after your hands – from heat, rough surfaces, chemicals, etc – while goggles and ear defenders protect two very important senses. For instance, if you happen to be around when tarmac is being laid, even on the safest of work sites there’s the risk of flying stones and many tasks can be very noisy. Where there may be strong fumes, breathing apparatus is worn.

PPE can also be used to highlight messages to the viewer. Visitors may be given a different colour hard hat to workers, as may contractors or supervisors, so helping to identify roles and responsibilities. This can be particularly helpful to let supervisors know why one person may be wearing different PPE to another: a visitor who is kept well back from the work may only need to wear a hard hat and high visibility jacket, in contrast to the person carrying out the task who will be kitted out in more items. This is why Lottie isn’t wearing ear defenders during this site visit.

Over the coming months, you’ll spot many more people in PPE on Rochester’s bridges, as they carry out work for our major refurbishment project. Keep a look out for them and see how many different items of safety equipment you can spot.

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