A tale of tea, TV and misused PPE (Part 1)

Diving Safety Scientist Nick Bailey explains why the often haphazard use of PPE in popular TV shows makes it difficult for him to relax and enjoy a night’s viewing.

Huddled in front of the goggle box after a long day in the office, I browse the TV listings to see what might entertain me during that twilight zone between evening meal and bedtime.  Amongst the offerings that take my fancy are a programme charting the renovation of a house, a show about classic car restoration, and one about the history of the Roman Empire.

I’ve got a nice cuppa on the go and turn to my first viewing choice of the evening. The credits roll, jaunty theme music plays and a jolly chap tells the viewers about the dilapidated property behind him. Over the coming months he’s going to observe as a willing couple – helped by friends and the occasional contractor – spend a hefty chunk of cash to convert the crumbling wreck into a state-of-the-art living space.

Tea in hand, I watch as the initial phase of restoration commences. The willing couple are knocking lumps of plaster off internal walls and dropping ceilings to give them the bare bones to start the rebuild. Dense clouds of dust billow and occasionally hide the couple; when they emerge they are covered from top to toe in a thick, dark residue. Happily, they are wearing the correct PPE; but was this needed? Surely they could have set up some kind of whizzy dust extraction system instead?

Well, for most of us attempting DIY home renovation it’s usually on a limited budget, and using a remote system with the correct Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) to extract the dust is likely to be a bit too costly. In any case, when we watch DIY programmes, the presenters and builders on the telly seem to rely on nothing more than PPE to keep them safe. So if it’s good enough for them, surely it should be good enough for the rest of us?

Well, possibly… but only if you’ve chosen the right PPE, know how to wear it correctly and are confident that it is of reliable quality. My colleagues in HSE’s wider PPE team have carried out some market surveillance work and not all PPE is as good as you might think.

Anyway back at the home renovation TV show, I notice that one of the couple is sporting a fashionable beard. So what’s the problem with that? Well, as we’ve mentioned before (here, in fact), beards and close fitting respiratory protection masks don’t work together. A beard will lift the seal of a mask away from your face, allowing all the stuff that the mask is supposedly protecting you from into your lungs.

Then I notice that the partner has only one strap around the back of the head the other is hanging around their chin. This is another way of giving the nasty stuff in the air easy access to your airways and down to your lungs. Put simply, if you don’t wear PPE properly it can’t protect you properly!

As the couple progress through their project new walls are built, ceilings are fitted, wiring routed, pipework soldered, and windows are fitted and glazed. The beard has got bushier with time but the partner is clearly still using the same mask we saw him wearing earlier in the project. Most ‘paper’ style masks are single use items and should be replaced after each use, but as the wearer had presumably neither received appropriate training nor read the instructions how could they know this?

By the conclusion of the show, the house is looking spectacular, the couple have spent 50 % more than they had budgeted, and they still have some small items to sort out. But they’re looking forward to moving into the property, having some relaxing evenings sat in front of the open fire and admiring the view from their panoramic window.

As the closing credits roll I’m left feeling that it’s time for a glass of wine to drown my sorrows over the cavalier use of PPE I’ve just witnessed. Next up, it’s the classic car restoration programme. That should be a more enjoyable watch. Shouldn’t it? Find out in Part Two (my next post).

End of part one.


Is Nick right to be irritated by the way PPE is sometimes shown on TV? Why not share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment below?

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