Saving your breath

10/03/20 General

Every year, thousands of people die or develop serious health conditions as a result of breathing in harmful dust and fumes at work. Fitting and maintaining appropriate local exhaust ventilation can help to protect employees from this risk.

Breathing in airborne contaminants that include dust, mist, fumes, gas or vapours may cause a number of occupational diseases. As well as asthma, an employee could suffer extrinsic allergic alveolitis, lung scarring and even cancer as a result of exposure.

body shops, where exposure to paint mist released when spraying can cause problems; joinery firms, where wood dust means that carpenters and joiners are four times more likely to get asthma; and bakeries, where flour dust can cause respiratory diseases.

EMPLOYERS MUST PREVENT, OR ADEQUATELY CONTROL, EXPOSURES TO SUBSTANCES HAZARDOUS TO HEALTH

Where there is a risk of exposure, employers have a legal duty to protect their employees. Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002, employers must prevent, or adequately control, exposures to substances hazardous to health in order to prevent employees suffering ill health.

LOCAL EXHAUST VENTILATION
Where an employer is unable to prevent the risk of exposure, for instance by changing the method of work or using a safer material, a common approach to controlling exposure is by implementing local exhaust ventilation systems (LEV).

Different systems are available dependent on the type of work being undertaken and can range from an on-tool extractor on a soldering iron or hand sander right through to a walk-in booth for paint spraying. Regardless of size or shape, they all operate on the same principle – collect the air containing the contaminants and get rid of them safely.

When the right system is in place, LEV is very effective. To ensure this is the case, it’s important to get the right type for the process and contaminant that needs to be controlled. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) recommends involving employees in the design and selection of the system: they will understand the process and how they can be protected. In addition, this involvement can encourage them to use the LEV when it’s implemented.

EMPLOYEES ALSO NEED TO UNDERSTAND HOW TO USE THE LEV SYSTEM PROPERLY, WITH TRAINING PROVIDED WHERE NECESSARY

LEV also needs to be installed properly. The HSE recommends2 that airflow indicators or equivalent are positioned on the hoods so they are visible to the operator and provide an immediate indication that the LEV is performing correctly. Airflow is the main reason a system doesn’t work so these indicators will immediately alert employees to any problems.

Employees also need to understand how to use the LEV system properly, with training provided where necessary. The HSE recommends that this covers topics including the harmful nature of the substances they could be exposed to; how the LEV system works; and what to do if something goes wrong.

Source: Allianz Insurance plc