What is the best personal protective equipment to use when cutting paving slabs?

- Mark Ekin, College of West Anglia.

A: I presume you are using a disc cutter or cut-off saw. I recall last summer I saw contractors relaying high street pavement and one worker was cutting paving blocks. He was wearing a tee-shirt, shorts and work boots - no eye or ear protection, no dust mask and no gloves. The levels of dust and noise were tremendous.

The very high rotation speed of the cutting wheel of a cut-off saw means special safety precautions must be taken. Training is essential and when using a new disc cutter or cut-off saw, you should read the manual and fully understand the operation of the tool before you start using it.

Wear appropriate clothing that allows freedom of movement but fits snugly. A boiler suit is a good idea. A work jacket is a bad idea. If you are cutting steel, the sparks generated necessitate clothing made of barely flammable material such as cotton with flame-retardant finish. And whenever you use this type of equipment, make sure there is no oil, fuel or other flammable deposits on your clothing. Never wear loose clothing, scarves or jewellery that could become caught in the moving parts of the saw.

Safety boots with non-slip soles and steel toe caps are a must. A helmet should be worn if there is any risk of failing objects or if working near swinging machinery such as excavators. A face mask and goggles should be used to protect against flying objects. Note that a face mask alone is not sufficient to protect the eyes.

I suggest you take a look at Stihl's new Ultrasonic safety goggles. These are especially good for people who already wear spectacles because there is plenty of room inside. They are ideal for use when operating emergency rescue and cut-off saws, have 100 per cent UV protection and side ventilation. The interior is scratch resistant but, best of all, these goggles are non-misting - making them worth the £23.50 list price.

Using a cut-off saw also demands the wearing of ear defenders to protect hearing and you should also wear sturdy gloves. Again, some of the best gear I have seen comes from Stihl. The Concept 24 (EN 352-1) ear protectors (SNR 24) are sufficient, providing ear protection up to 104dB(A) and only costing £13.75. There is provision for good air circulation and the soft pads are gentle on the ears while a metal frame adds robustness.

There are many good gloves for use when preparing and cutting paving slabs, but recently I used Stihl's Carver high-performance work gloves. These combine black synthetic leather with orange Spandex and neoprene, making them comfortable, tough and good looking. The fingers have lateral air vents and the flexible rubber cuffs have Velcro fastening. Do get the right size - and note that medium actually feels quite small. Expect to pay around £16.50.

Finally, you should always wear a dust mask in the presence of major and/or continuous dust generation and wear respiratory protection if cutting composites. Dust suppression, using water, should be considered.

As well as protecting yourself, it is essential to remember that the user is responsible for accidents and hazards suffered by other people and their property. Only operate cut-off saws and disc cutters in locations that do not endanger children, animals and bystanders. Sally Drury has reported for HW and its forerunner GC&HTJ for 28 years and has spent more than five years testing machinery for HW and What Kit? The advice in this helpline is independent.


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