For more than 140 years, Blackwoods has been supporting Australian businesses with industrial and safety supplies. Roads & Infrastructure speaks to some of the company’s managers about the latest in workplace safety equipment.
“Think safe, work safe, be safe” was the theme selected by Safe Work Australia for the National Safe Work Month in October last year.
For Darren Gallagher, National Category and Sourcing Manager – Workplace Safety, Respiratory, and Fall Protection at Blackwoods, that’s also the message the company wants to send across through its involvement in promoting industrial safety practices.
As a key supplier of industrial and safety equipment to Australian industries for the past 140 years, Blackwoods has more than 300,000 products on offer at any given time. These include both products sourced through the company’s local and international supply partners, as well as the in-house developed products, like the PROSAFE range of safety equipment.
Particularly of interest to the civil industry, Blackwoods’ safety solutions cover such broad categories as workplace safety, personal protective, manual handling and signage/traffic management equipment.
Working on solutions
With such a broad range, Gallagher says Blackwoods understands the importance of expert guidance. As such, he says Blackwoods’ technical safety specialists and category managers are often engaging with clients to help them find not just products, but solutions for their relevant industries.
“Across every industry that we work with, we get involved with clients to produce solutions for their specific applications,” he tells Roads & Infrastructure.
“Our specialists have knowledge across the whole product range and use that to find the best options for every business. We also work directly with our supply partners to bring their expertise to let our client know the best options that meet their requirements.”
An example of this, Gallagher notes, are initiatives undertaken by Blackwoods to spread awareness around the risk of respirable crystalline silica – otherwise known as silica dust – in the construction sector.
In 2019, the national workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica was halved from an eight-hour, time-weighted average airborne concentration of 0.1 milligrams per cubic metre (mg/m3) to 0.05 mg/m3. This new workplace exposure standard has been mandated across all Australian state and territory regulators since November 2020.
Gallagher says Blackwoods has been helping construction businesses comply with the hierarchy of control process for managing silica dust by providing them with suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) and personal protective equipment (PPE).
“Apart from supplying established brands and fit testing of RPE, Blackwoods experts have also been able to advise on suitable solutions for different workplaces to provide engineered solutions to reducing the amount of silica dust generated from work activity,” he says.
“As part of our commitment to helping industry and individuals make informed decisions about their health and safety, we have included articles on silica dust in the Blackwoods’ Safety Spotlight magazine. Our goal is to continue the discussion and encourage businesses in the construction sector to also make silicosis prevention a priority.”
Minimising risk exposures
This model of exposure minimisation is also delivered through other Blackwoods product categories.
In welding for example, the company offers guidelines to its clients around the five-tier hierarchy of controls methodology and supports employers with supply of welding powered air purifying respirators (PAPR). Fume extraction welding guns supplied by the company help capture and remove fumes at their source.
Blackwoods’ in-house developed PPE products such as the PROSAFE gloves and eyewear ranges offer protection to workers in different industries.
PROSAFE trifold respirators, which are available both with and without valves, are designed to comply with P2 respiratory filter rating – meaning they can effectively protect users against dust, mist and fumes.
The PROSAFE range also includes specialty gloves and eyewear, designed to meet all the required Australian standards for personal protection.
“Our PROSAFE eyewear has been designed with the end user in mind, meaning that comfort is considered equally as important as functionality,” explains Gallagher.
“Some recent incidents have highlighted the additional risk that comes from lack of visibility,” says Gallagher.
“At Blackwoods, we have updated our products in line with the relevant Australian standards and state regulations to provide temporary traffic barriers, apparel and footwear with enhanced retroreflective properties that help increase the visibility of workers, plants, and equipment.”
Leigh Eam, Blackwoods’ National Category Manager for Apparel and Footwear is directly involved with these developments around modern-day workwear.
She says Blackwoods has been broadening its range of high visibility (Hi Vis) clothing with reflective tapes to help improve worksite visibility.
“Blackwoods’ offering in this space is quite substantial,” she says. “Products like Workhorse’s X-back shirts for rail and road safety, H-Tape shirts for height safety and the White Taped range for night works are just some examples,” she says.
Blackwoods also partners with KingGee and Hard Yakka, providing a biomotion range of shirts, pants and jackets, which as Eam explains, are designed to ensure workers can be easily distinguished from equipment and machinery.
“Having two lines of reflective tape on these garments makes it easier to detect the individual’s movements, so as to avoid any confusion with stationary equipment in low light environments,” she explains.
Heat stress is another risk area for workers in the construction industry.
Eam says Blackwoods can supply or help design customised workwear to assist workers combat excessive heat.
“For workers in the hotter climate, we can provide alternative fabrics or source or design ventilation systems for the garment. For instance, with KingGee, whose Hyperfreeze fabric technology harnesses the wearer’s sweat to lower the temperature of the fabric and keep the body cool.
“Some of our shirt designs have as many as 16 to 18 ventilation points to ensure good airflow on the body. Other products which Blackwoods carry, such as Sqwincher freeze pops, neck coolers, cooling vests, wide brim hats, sunscreens and cooler aids, could help manage heat,” she explains.
This flexibility in design extends to other Blackwoods workwear products as well, says Eam.
“Where site crew need to carry an ultra high frequency (UHF) radio while working, we can design radio loops on their shirts to make sure it doesn’t become a catch hazard. We offer a wide range, but we can also customise our products to the industry’s needs.”
Mental health support
Another area where Blackwoods has been actively engaging with the construction industry is to provide support on mental health.
Eam says workwear brands such as Workhorse supporting the Beyond Blue Foundation and Trademutt with their ‘This is a Conversation Starter’ shirts are just some examples.
“Unfortunately, mental health is prevalent in our industry, where suicide rates are worryingly high, particularly among male workers. Blackwood offers Trademutt’s Hi Vis safety garments that act as conversation starters, encouraging workers to have a conversation with their mates and with professionals around mental health,” she says.
Supply disruptions over the past two years of the pandemic have been a concern for the construction industry. Eam says Blackwoods has been able to navigate this with proactive planning.
“Over the past two years, it’s been tough for everybody. It’s also been tough for us, but as a business we are quite proactive we’ve been able to pivot, working with our key partner suppliers, increasing our stock levels, and re-aligning our demand forecasting and demand planning to suit the unprecedented situation,” she says.
“This has allowed us to ensure continuous supply of critical products to the industry.”
With Blackwoods being part of the Wesfarmers group, Eam says the company could also lean on Wesfarmers to secure continuous supply of shipping containers and minimise any freight disruptions.
Support for the industry
Dariel Kolarik is the National Strategic Account Manager at Blackwoods. She says the team has been working closely with local, state and federal governments, schools, TAFEs, hospitals, emergency services, transport, justice, universities and other such government entities to provide Blackwoods’ products to meet their safety needs.
“During the fires, and more recently the floods, Blackwoods worked side by side with the emergency services and our suppliers to get urgently needed products out to the disaster areas, with teams working and opening the warehouses on weekends so that the frontline workers had access to critical safety products,” she says.
Kolarik says the factors that set Blackwoods apart in the support of its customers are many and varied.
“First, we have the technical capability and our teams’ expert knowledge around each product category, which allows us to present all the available solutions to customers,” she says.
“Moreover, our business model allows us to provide both retail and business-to-business services to customers. Customers can purchase their requirements at a Blackwoods branch at the same negotiated terms and pricing as they would get if they sent their order through the company’ system. It’s a model that’s very rare in our industry.”
Through this support, and with a high degree of compliance with industry standards, Kolarik says Blackwoods has been able to secure supply contracts across governments and construction [companies] for their infrastructure projects as well as their day-to-day business.
“Government tenders often have very high compliancy requirements when it comes to supplier accreditation. From corporate social responsibility to customer support policy and sustainability initiatives, there are so many boxes that need to be ticked before a supplier is approved,” she says.
“The fact that Blackwoods’ product catalogue has been approved for procurement by so many government agencies and for major contractors across mega transport and infrastructure projects is testament that the industry understands the value of our services and products.”
This article was originally published in the May edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.