Occupational exposure to Hazardous Substances

Exposure to hazardous substances within the workplace

In today’s article we will be discussing our recent visit to a company in Canary Wharf, London. Our client contacted us and requested that we carried out an assessment of occupational exposure to hazardous substances in order to comply with Health and Safety legislations. The company employs engineers to go out to various locations to carry out services and maintenance work on lifts. Typical work activities involve repairing malfunctioning lifts and carrying out regular maintenance tasks. Carrying out maintenance tasks involves the use of a lubricant in order to lubricate the lift cables. The length of time the lift engineers are exposed to the lubricant varies depending on the number of lifts which require maintenance and the length of the cable runs. However the engineers are believed to be exposed to the lubricant for 8 hours during a typical working day. 

Typically two engineers attend location when lubricating lift cables. Their work involves the decanting of lubricant from a 5 litre canister into a tray. They then apply the lubricant to the cables using a rolling paint brush, working their way from the top of the shaft downwards. The lubricant used is Tribol WR 4600 lubricant which contains approximately 75% petroleum hydrocarbons and approximately 25% of unspecified anticorrosion compounds and additives. 

Occupational exposure to Hazardous Substances

Sampling and analysis of hazardous substances

On the day of the assessment, we fitted the lift engineers with Cassella and Gillian personal samplers. These samplers work by collecting airborne vapours that are produced while the engineers are carrying out their typical activities. They provide us with accurate measurements of the concentrations of hazardous substances which the engineers are being exposed to. 

The results of the air monitoring suggested that the lift engineers are unlikely to be exposed to levels of hydrocarbons above the workplace exposure limits (WELs) therefore the engineers’ exposure at this concentration is not considered to be hazardous to health. The assessment also indicated that the use of the portable air filtration equipment only had a marginal effect on the personal exposure of the engineers. The reason for this is the proximity between the engineers and the lubricant when it is in use. In order for the filtration system to be effective in controlling the personal exposure it must filter out contaminants from the working air at the source and before contact with the engineers. However due to the nature of the operation this is not possible, therefore it is unlikely that altering the type or filtration capacity of the filtration system would have any effect on the personal exposure. 

Occupational exposure to Hazardous Substances

What remediation measures did we recommend?

On completion of our assessment, our surveyor had a couple of remediation measures to recommend our client in order for them to minimise the employees’ exposure to hazardous substances. Although the assessment indicated that the use of respiratory protective equipment was not necessary, our surveyor strongly recommended that our client maintains the mandatory use of respiratory protection during the application of the lubricants. This is due to the narcotic properties of the petroleum hydrocarbons in combination with the confined spaces in which they are used. 

All lift engineers should receive training on the health risks from hazardous substances in the workplace, control measures, their use and maintenance. This training should be refreshed at least once a year. Finally, due to the skin irritating nature of some of the lubricant components we advise that regular in house health surveillance with focus on occupational dermatitis is carries out. 


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