Report: Poor Ventilation During Electrical Cable Manufacturing May Result in Respiratory Problems

During manufacturing of electrical components and cables, manufacturers may want to determine whether their employees are exposed to high levels of toxic airborne chemicals. A health hazard evaluation (HHE) report published by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found employees at a facility that produced electrical power distribution cable accessories may have been exposed to chemicals during manufacturing that may result in respiratory problems. Manufacturing employers that may see reports of respiratory issues among their workforce may want to invest in fume extraction solutions to remove toxic airborne chemicals from their workspace.

NIOSH said employees were concerned about certain manufacturing processes – including rubber molding, plastic extrusion and soldering – causing them to be exposed to harmful chemicals. Previously, workers reported symptoms related to issues with their eye, nose, throat and respiratory systems. They also said they experienced dizziness and headaches. In addition to analyzing employee concerns in its HHE report, NIOSH said it evaluated the company’s the work practices at the facility as well as potential air and surface contaminants.

Workers at risk for excess chemical exposure
The agency said it found evidence of formaldehyde, which is a carcinogen, in the plastic extrusion area of the facility, but it was below the amount that would need immediate attention. The only personal air sample result that yielded a higher than normal exposure rate was for toluene as a spray painter had an exposure that was more than the 12-hour occupational exposure limit.

“Although the chemicals we measured during our evaluation were below relevant OELs, levels at other times may have been higher depending on varying conditions,” the NIOSH report said. “In addition, some employees may still experience symptoms when compounds are present at levels below the OELs. Employee symptoms despite low air levels of solvents could be explained by the skin absorption of certain chemicals (OELs do not take into account chemical exposure through skin absorption)”

Importance of ventilation systems to limit exposure
In addition to having some chemicals surpass the limit for exposure, the facility had a damaged ventilation system, which was observed to have holes and disconnected ducts. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, companies should maintain their ventilation equipment to optimize employee safety.

“Ventilation may be deficient in confined spaces, facilities failing to provide adequate maintenance of ventilation equipment, facilities operated to maximize energy conservation, windowless areas, and areas with high occupant densities,” according to OHSA.

Companies may want to make sure their engineering controls, which include ventilation, are working properly. NIOSH recommended that the electronics cable manufacturer fix its ventilation system and expand its engineering controls to limit exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. The report noted employers may want to install exhaust ventilation on drying racks to protect workers who may be exposed to chemicals from painted parts. They may also want to invest in fume extraction solutions that will remove air impurities and replace them with clean air for to ensure worker safety. 

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