Hazardous Substances in the workplace
We were invited to a factory based in Braintree, which specialises in the production of construction steel, advertising billboards and flood light and telecommunication pylons. We were asked to carry out an assessment of occupational exposure to hazardous substances as employees are likely to be exposed to inhalable and respirable dust and metal fumes during their working day.
The site consists of two main fabrication buildings and several ancillary storage areas. The company employs approximately 17 employees to work in these areas and they are exposed to hazardous substances for 9 hours and 45 minutes on average. During a working day employees work with metal shaping presses, metal band saws, acetylene cutters and welding.
Are employees at risk of exposure to hazardous substances
On completion of our investigation the air monitoring results suggested that the welding operatives are likely to be exposed to levels of metal fumes above the workplace exposure limits (WELs). This means employees working in this area are at particular risk of exposure due to the company not using respiratory protection for the control of dust and metal fumes. Employees working in the welding areas only currently use welding shields.
The local exhaust ventilation (LEV) systems should undergo thorough examinations and be tested as required by COSHH regulation 9. When our surveyor tested the LEV systems they were found to be performing satisfactory. However the company currently does not perform regular formal checks on the LEV systems in order to ensure that they are functioning properly. Furthermore the LEV systems within the building are not currently fitted with airflow indicators as recommended in the HSG258 guidance.
Our surveyor found that the accumulation of light fumes was evident towards the end of the day in the factory area with the shutter doors open. From this we can assume that the accumulation of fumes in the ambient air will be much more significant during the winter months when the shutter doors remain closed.
Recommendations to minimalise occupational exposure to hazardous substances
Due to the results of our investigation, our surveyor had many recommendations for our client. Firstly we strongly recommended that the LEV systems within the building should be tested on a six monthly basis not 12. Staff should also receive adequate training on effective positioning of the extraction and effective capturing distance for a source positioned in a horizontally offset position to the extraction.
Secondly we recommended that all operatives working in the welding and grinding areas should be provided with respiratory protection. The use of this respiratory protective equipment during all activities which generate dust and fumes, should be strictly enforced by employers. Due to the risk of exposure to hazardous substances being relatively high, we also recommended our client introduces an in-house health surveillance programme. All records of employees’ health surveillance should be kept for 40 years.
Lastly we recommended that all workers who are exposed to hazardous substances should receive suitable and adequate training as detailed in COSHH regulation 12. These workers should be trained in the use of all controls (LEV) and what procedure to follow if exposure controls fail. This training should be delivered on a regular basis with a frequency of at least once a year.