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Respirable Dust Is The Invisible Killer No-One Is Talking About

onv 17 7Respirable Dust Is The Invisible Killer No-One Is Talking About

Retrospective measurement and analysis of Respirable Dust is no longer acceptable. According to the HSE[1] around 4,000 people in the UK die from dust inhalation related to exposure in the workplace every year (more than twice the number dying in road accidents) and hazardous industries need to improve the working environment. (Read More)

While regulation is being tightened to improve working conditions, it is the fear of legal claims that is now focusing attention for managers, boards and shareholders.
 
How confident is the business that employees are safe from exposure to hazardous dusts, including silica? Faced with the need to boost efficiency and reduce operational costs, can managers afford to implement stringent health and safety practices that affect employee performance? Can they afford not to? Without immediate visibility of the quality of the working environment, it is an impossible choice. How can any manager determine the appropriate levels of dust suppression or create the right working environment without real-time monitoring of hazardous dust levels?
 
Matthew Evans, Business Manager – Dust Monitoring Systems at Trolex, a global supplier of gas and dust detection, connector solutions, strata monitoring to the mining and hazardous industries, explains why organisations that operate with hazardous environments for the workforce need to wake up to the use of real-time technology in the workplace.
 
Legislative limitation in hazardous environments
Safety regulation across the globe has become ever more stringent as authorities have recognised the dangers associated with working in hazardous dusty environments. From mining to tunneling and manufacturing, hundreds of thousands of individuals are working every day in high dust environments, and therefore at risk of inhaling potential health damaging toxins, most notably silica. Indeed, the problem is escalating, with technology innovation in many hazardous industries opening up new opportunities but also creating the risk of significantly more dust.
 
Such exposure can be insidious – workers are often unaware of any health issues until many years after the fact, as the raft of new legal claims facing companies every year attests. In increasingly challenging environments, how can organisations protect all stakeholders – from employees and managers to the board and investors?
 
Balancing Safety with Performance
While regulations become ever tighter, balancing employee wellbeing with performance, productivity and a good working environment is far from straightforward. Providing dust masks is an obvious step but these are not necessarily comfortable pieces of equipment – they affect performance and the majority of employees would most definitely prefer not to wear a mask if there is no health risk.
 
Similar concerns surround the use of dust suppression techniques. Whilst effective, there is an associated cost, and in any highly competitive market experiencing price pressure, organisations are looking to minimise the use of suppression where possible. Yet with no accurate and, critically, immediate and continuous information about the current levels of dust in the environment, organisations simply cannot make these decisions in real-time. The only option is to follow a default strategy based on visual assessment of the dust levels and hope for the best. Not good enough, especially in an increasingly litigious environment.
 
Dated Monitoring Model

Of course, while the lack of immediate and continuous information leads to organisations struggling to ascertain risk levels, it also constrains regulators’ ability to adequately enforce new regulation.  But workers are also suffering – not only potentially long term health issues but also immediate concerns regarding the workplace. As awareness rises of the risks associated with dust such as silica, a lack of information can affect worker morale and the trust they place in management and the business.
 
The essential problem is the traditional process for analysing air quality which relies on collection through a filter over a period of time or on spot analysis giving a snapshot but no continued monitoring.  Typically a company will collect eight hourly samples which are then sent off for laboratory analysis – a process that takes up to two weeks! This is clearly not acceptable. Employees can be potentially exposed to hazardous materials during this time, yet managers have no data to support critical decisions regarding the use of safety equipment and suppression.
 
Without any way of accurately assessing the air quality in real-time, organisations are operating blind and run the risk of exposing employees to harmful dust – and the business to future lawsuits. Or, alternatively, if organisations insist on continuous, unproductive use of personal protective equipment and deploy expensive suppression techniques? It is a no-win situation.
 
Real-Time Monitoring

The latest monitoring technology operates in real-time, providing continuous analysis of dust levels which is fed directly into an operational system. In addition to being considerably less expensive and time-consuming than sending samples to the laboratory for analysis, the real-time insight transforms day to day operations.
 
With immediate visibility of the quality of the environment, an organisation can embark upon proactive strategies to improve air quality and dust suppression as and when required. It also enables organisations to confidently tell employees when it is safe to operate without masks – and employees have access to the information, reinforcing their confidence in the environment. If the levels rise – or reach a maximum cumulative level permitted by legislation during an eight hour shift – an alarm can be raised to warn the employee to take the appropriate action, from putting on a mask to leaving the affected area.
 
Furthermore, with complete records of the level of exposure of every employee throughout their working life, a company has the information required to counter any possible court case or claim in the future. Both company and workforce are protected.
 
Conclusion

While environmental monitoring has become a standard activity within hazardous environments over the past decades, the lack of real-time information on dust levels has constrained both regulators and operators.  Balancing employee safety with productivity and efficiency is an incredibly difficult task for any manager – and simply raising the penalty for excessive exposure to dust is no use if the regulation is hard to enforce, especially when the resultant illness may not occur for years, even decades.
 
In addition to being lower cost and far more convenient, real-time monitoring enables organisations to address their corporate social responsibility requirements for employee safety and meet regulatory demands without compromising operational performance. Employees are both more confident in the quality of the environment and able to work effectively without unwieldy safety equipment when not required, making the work both more efficient and enjoyable. Business can deploy dust suppression and containment systems strategically and in a smart way that minimizes cost and maximizes production efficiency.
 
Critically, operations managers have, for the first time, certainty. With accurate, immediate information on the quality of the environment, backed up by the security of alarms should a level be breached, managers can confidently improve operational efficiency without fear of compromising workers’ health. Using real-time information will go a long way towards minimising employee exposure, reducing time off work and negating the risk of legal action in the future.
 
With real time monitoring of hazardous work environments, organisations can confidently embrace the operational tactics that tend to create more dust – most notably silica – with full visibility of the impact on air quality and employees’ health, and allay any stakeholder concerns.

By Matthew Evans,
Business Manager at Trolex.

For further information please visit:
https://www.trolex.com