Clean Air Safety: Don’t Get Left in the Dust

CWA National Seminar 2017

March 16, 2017 CWB Group Nisku Learning Centre 206- 19th Ave Nisku Industrial Park Nisku, AB T9E 0W8 Canada

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Proper Weld Fume Extractor and Welder Positioning

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Clean Air Safety: Don’t Get Left in the Dust

Increased Focus on Airborne Dust Control

Manufacturing is a dirty business. Metalworking, food processing, pharmaceutical manufacturing, powder coating, woodworking, mining, paper milling, and more – as diverse as these processes are, they share a similar concern: creating airborne contaminants. Dust, mist, smoke, fumes – these respirable particles are created in manufacturing processes, and their allowable ambient levels are, in many cases, monitored and regulated by agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). In addition to the oversight organizations, savvy job seekers are increasingly taking clean air safety into consideration as they perform their searches – an important trend given the general, industry-wide labor shortage. With all the attention, it’s clear airborne dust control and proper ventilation are critical. Let’s explore why.

Employee Health and Clean Air Safety

Based on the industry, air quality contaminants vary and so do the related effects. Regardless, as you will see, it is extremely important to properly contain and filter these pollutants.

In metalworking processes, like welding and cutting, a variety of particulate can be carried via fume and smoke to the respiration areas of workers – as much as 85% of welding smoke consists of particulate, after all. Two of the most concerning elements found in weld fume, and therefore heavily regulated, are hexavalent chromium and manganese.

Exposure to either element can lead to varying degrees of skin, eye or nose irritation, severe lung irritation, and even cancer. Prolonged contact with manganese can lead to symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease including tremors, poor balance and cognitive impairments. Converted to its hexavalent state during welding processes, chromium fume is highly toxic and can damage the eyes, skin and respiratory system and cause cancer.

In plants with heavy machinery, oil mist is a concern. Oil mist is formed when high pressure oils such as fuel oil, lubricating oil or hydraulic oil are sprayed through a narrow fissure. Additionally, oil mist can form when leaked oil vaporizes after exposure to a high temperature surface and then meets low air temperature. Oil mist can settle to create hazardous, slick surfaces which may be difficult to detect by the human eye. Worse, oil mists pose a potential explosion hazard if the mist comes in contact with high temperature surfaces or a spark.

Food processing can also result in the creation of dangerous dusts. It’s easy to imagine these dusts having negative impact on worker respiration, but food processing dusts can also be highly explosive. As a matter of fact, the first documented dust explosion occurred in a Turin, Italy, bakery in 1785 when flour dust was ignited by a storeroom lamp.

Respiratory issues, skin irritation, slip hazards, explosions and more, the health and safety concerns surrounding airborne contaminants are many. Increasingly, plant managers and shop owners are making the connection between the health of their workforce and the operation’s bottom line by focusing on productivity.

Airborne Contaminants and Workplace Productivity

The American Welding Society estimates a possible shortage of skilled laborers in welding and related trades to the tune of 290,000 by the year 2020. With evaluations like this, it’s incredibly important for manufacturers to strive for a highly productive organization.

According to a report on indoor air quality, worker performance can be improved by as much as 10% with improved indoor environmental quality. For instance, when ambient temperature rises above or falls below 71°F or 72°F, productivity decreases by an average of .3% to .4% for each 1°F change.

In a separate study conducted by Harvard, Syracuse and SUNY Upstate, researchers found that poor indoor air quality significantly decreased the ability of workers to think, reason and problem solve. In fact, the team saw 15% to 50% decreases in cognitive ability from individuals in oxygen-lacking work environments.

All told, OSHA estimates poor indoor air quality costs employers $15 billion annually due to worker inefficiency and sick leave. Savvy business drivers understand the impact of airborne contaminants on their workforce productivity and are taking steps to ensure they don’t get left in the dust. Are you?