A HEALTH and safety expert, who has lost several family members to work-related respiratory diseases, is helping prevent others from falling victim to similar illnesses.
Paul Ness, 57, from Washington, launched SafeNess Safety Support Ltd after identifying a gap in the market for the provision of professional face-fit testing to those working in high-hazard industries.
Paul, has witnessed first-hand how heavy industries (such as mining and shipbuilding) have impacted upon the health of the region’s workforce and this has driven him to help protect others working in similar conditions.
On average, 12,000 people in the UK die each year from occupational-related respiratory diseases, about two-thirds of which are asbestos-related or due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
He said: “Prior to launching SafeNess Safety Support Ltd, I spent 35 years working in the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) industry – and worked with a number of organisations to develop guidance on Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) best practice. As health and safety standards began to improve, I came to realise that there were many providers of face-fit tests but that very few were fit2fit accredited.
“fit2fit accreditation is a recognised qualification developed jointly between the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF).”
Having recently gained fit2fit accreditation Paul is now able to demonstrate a level of competence in face-fit testing, both quantitative and qualitative.
“It was predicted that the demise of much of the UK’s heavy industry – such as coal mining, shipbuilding and steel making – would lead to a decline in the number of work-related respiratory illnesses, however that couldn’t be further from the truth,” he added.
“The HSE have signaled that the number of deaths from work-related respiratory disease is expected to climb to 13,000 this year. So why is this when more people are wearing Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) than they were 25 years ago?
“The problem is that many are either wearing the wrong RPE or are fitting it incorrectly, meaning that the level of protection offered is severely compromised; they are unwittingly exposing themselves to hazardous substances.
“I always ask RPE wearers, “would you rather be watching your grandkids play through the window, or would you rather be out there with them?” and that’s exactly what we aim to do, help improve quality of life as well as extending it.”
Safeness Safety Support Ltd works cross-sector. Anywhere where RPE users are working with hazardous substances.
“No two mask wearers have the same shaped face. Face-fit testing ensures people are equipped with RPE which fits them so ensuring protection. Knowledge of both fitting and maintenance are required in order to provide a high standard of advice. Through fit2fit accreditation, real-life experience and also my degree in Occupational Safety & Health, I have an all-round knowledge of the subject and can provide a full-service offering, something very few businesses in the area can compete with.”
Prior to launching the business, Paul contacted Job Centre Plus and was signposted towards the North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC). Paul was then referred to the New Enterprise Allowance (NEA) programme which is part funded by the European Social Fund.
Paul attended workshops and has benefited from the support of experienced business adviser Margaret Cook.
Paul said: “The team at the BIC have been fantastic with Margaret in particular being a great support. It’s easy to talk yourself into starting a business, but it’s not always easy to see the wood for the trees when there’s so much happening around you.
“Margaret listened to my business plan, made me question every aspect of it, and ensured everything was air-tight before I started trading. I’ve also been able to tap into funding, which came as a very welcome surprise and have attended a series of start-up workshops; it’s been a great support and has provided me with everything I’ve needed to get the business off the ground.”
Margaret added: “Paul identified a real niche for the provision of expert face-fit testing and training and we’re delighted to have been able to support him. The business not only has the potential to make workspaces safer, but also help save the lives of thousands.”
Paul was supported through the Enterprise Support in the North East 2 project which is part funded through the European Regional Development Fund.