fume extraction

Remove Indoor Air Quality Occupational Risk For Plastics Industry Workers

Workers are exposed to a variety of fumes as part of heating and molding  processes in the plastics industry during plastics manufacturing.

As a versatile material, plastics is used to make packaging and containers, to ensure quality smartphone manufacturing and for a variety of other applications. There are over 1.1 million employees in the plastics industry, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

These workers commonly come into contact with chemical fumes that are emitted during raw material manufacturing and plastics processing. As plastics come in the form of granules, powders or pellets, there are certain ways to mold or shape these materials into products. For the plastics manufacturing process, the material has heat or pressure applied to the plastic or the plastic resins are combined with additives, including fillers and pigments, according to Health and Safety Executive.

Sources of Plastics Fumes

One of the main plastic-making processes employed by manufacturers is thermoplastic injection molding, which heats plastic pellets until they are melted so they can be shaped by a mold to form products. As workers perform these manufacturing procedures, they are at risk for being exposed to fumes from the plastics either from the machines used for manufacturing or the plastics materials themselves.

“The primary sources of emissions at plastic products manufacturing facilities are the pieces of equipment (e.g., extruder hopper, die head, sander) used to handle raw materials and produce the final product,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency. “These are typically the locations where chemical reactions occur, liquid solvents and solvent blends are exposed to the atmosphere, solid resin is heated and melted, and additives are introduced.”

The level of fume exposure during the process varies but it is usually dependent on the type of operating procedure and the material that is being produced. Workers may find themselves exposed to different kinds of fumes during plastics processing, including hydrogen chloride from PVC plastic and formaldehyde from acetals. When heat is applied to it, pure PVC breaks down to form hydrochloric acid gas. Fumes from plastics can irritate the lungs and are even thought to be cancer-causing.

Types of Emissions From Plastic Manufacturing

Employees can also come into contact with plastics fumes while handling thermoforming resins, which could generate volatile organic compounds (VOC) and hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions. These are byproducts of the chemical reactions of heating resins and are also emitted by additives, a secondary material in the process. In addition to VOCs and HAP emissions, particulate matter can also form while workers handle raw materials through grinding or cutting or other finishing procedures for plastic production.

To help control the presence of fumes, HSE recommends implementing local exhaust ventilation (LEV). This engineering control can include fume extraction equipment such as extractors, which can be effective in case plastic film sticks and overheats or other instances where heating processes can endanger workers. Aging machines can also pose a risk to workers if their processing controls are unpredictable.

OSHA also recommends adequate ventilation and fume extraction systems so workers do not inhale gases that could cause long term health effects.

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Protecting Welders From Lead Exposure Starts With Fume Extraction

Welding fumes could produce lead exposure, which could cause harmful health effects.

Welders are vulnerable to a variety of hazardous chemicals while on the job, such as arsenic and hexavalent chromium. One of the most common chemicals is lead, which could have debilitating health effects, if employers do not take the necessary precautions to protect their workers’ health.

Workers are at risk for coming into contact with lead oxide fumes if they are performing activities related to either welding or cutting lead-bearing alloys or metals that may be coated in lead-based paint, according to the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE). Employers who are negligent about safeguarding their workers from lead exposure are likely to be fined by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

In 2002, a New York-based manufacturer was fined over $100,000 by OSHA for serious violations, EHS Today reported. The manufacturer of solder wire from lead-based alloys failed to protect its workers from high levels of lead exposure as well as did not provide staff with protective clothing and equipment while they were in contact with hazardous chemicals.

OSHA said reducing lead exposure is one of the top priorities for the agency as this type of exposure is one of the most common reported in industries and workplaces. Lead overexposure can cause temporary and chronic health effects. If workers inhale fumes during welding, it could cause lead poisoning. Employees exhibiting symptoms of this condition could report loss of appetite, nausea or abdominal cramps. Long term impact of lead exposure might present itself as damage to the brain, central nervous system and other organ systems.

Prevention is key to reduce lead exposure

Installing mobile welding fume extraction systems is an effective control method to prevent employees from inhaling hazardous substances. These tools for fume extraction can remove harmful lead-based gases before they are mixed in with the air around employees’ work spaces.

In taking further steps to lower the amount of lead employees come into contact with during welding, employers could consider substituting in materials that are less harmful.

“To further reduce welding fumes in work areas, employers may want to consider using less-hazardous materials such as low-fume welding rods and alternative welding methods such as stick welding, which creates less fumes than flux core welding,” according to a document by ASSE.

Employers may also want to strip welding or cutting materials of any paint, solvents or other residue that could result in giving off hazardous fumes.

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Welders’ Occupational Risks Include Chemical Exposure

Welders’ Occupational Risks Include Chemical Exposure 1

Welding has forever posed health and safety risks to laborers. But only in modern times have chemical vapors come to light as a dangerous threat – one that can prove deadly if not eliminated. Today, many industry employers are aware of the danger chemical exposure presents and use fume extraction as a method of removing harmful fumes from a worker’s breathing space.

For total worker protection, both physical and environmental safeguards need to be in place. Consider adopting the following measures:

Take ergonomics into account

While workers are regularly reminded to wear durable and flame-resistant clothing, which can include denim pants and welding jackets, they may not be aware of the significance of ergonomics as a factor in workplace safety, Industrial Safety & Hygiene News reported. Defined as fitting a job to a person, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, e​rgonomics can help keep workers safe by making sure their safety gear and equipment is well-suited for each individual worker. This includes fitting masks and protective clothing so they work properly.

Wear versatile protective equipment

Welding workers are exposed to various hazards from many sources. These can include sparks, radiation and fumes and gases, according to the American Welding Society. Since the American Welding Society recommends workers wear personal protective equipment to safeguard against these hazards, employers should make sure this equipment can protect against multiple hazards.

“Wear a fire-resistant welder’s cap or other head covering under your helmet,” the American Welding Society said. “It will protect your head and hair from flying sparks, spatter, burns and radiation.”

Avoid dirty clothing that can pose a danger to workers

Workers are also advised to ensure their protective equipment and clothing are clean as dirty and oil splattered clothing could open them to other risks, such as fire hazards.

“Keep clothing clean (free of oil, grease, or solvents which may catch fire and burn easily),” the American Welding Society stated. “Keep it in good repair (no holes, tears, or frayed edges). Always follow the manufacturer’s directions for their use, care, and maintenance.”

Employ air purification solutions

OSHA recommends companies utilize local exhaust ventilation and general mechanical ventilation systems to protect workers from the hazardous fumes generated during welding work. Engineering controls like welding fume extraction equipment should be used to remove dangerous fumes before they reach workers’ breathing space. 

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Fume Extraction Complements Respiratory Protection for Workers

Fume Extraction Complements Respiratory Protection for Workers 1

While the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides permissible exposure limits for various airborne toxic chemicals, companies should consider analyzing the exposure rate for individual employees. Depending on the length of exposure, occupation and other factors that influence the overall air quality of a facility, employers should be cognizant of the different exposure risks for individuals.

Workers are often exposed to biological pollutants that could be detrimental to air quality and trigger asthma attacks, according to the American Lung Association. Other air impurities like toxic gases and fumes have more long-term effects such as respiratory problems and could even cause issues with memory.

To limit exposure to harmful air pollutants that may cause occupational illnesses and fatalities, employers may want to provide workers with respiratory protection, such as respirators. According to OSHA, 1.3 million workplaces in the U.S. have approximately 5 million workers wear respirators.

The Oregon branch of OSHA recently released a guidance document for assessing respiratory risks in the workplace and other information about respiratory protection. Oregon OSHA recommended employers follow a three-step process for hazard analysis to find the source of respiratory hazards and protect against them.

In the document, the agency suggests companies use personal exposure monitoring to measure the individuals’ exposure rate by creating samples of the air they breathe in. Employers could also perform area monitoring, which involves collecting samples in locations in the facility where employees, managers or other workers suspect the air quality might be affecting their health or productivity. By undergoing exposure monitoring, employers can determine what the concentration of air impurities is and whether employees are at a high risk of developing negative health effects.

Engineering controls could complement respiratory protection

With the various airborne hazards in workplaces affecting workers on a case-by-case basis, companies may want to consider whether they should use personal protective equipment such as a respirators as well as engineering controls to reduce exposure to chemical and biological contaminants.

To complement respiratory protection, companies could install engineering controls to improve ventilation and air quality. These solutions include fume extraction equipment to remove impurities that could lower air quality and replace them with clean air. Fume extraction equipment could be installed close to the source of chemical exposure to target air impurities before they enter a worker’s breathing space.

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