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Danger: Silica Dust! Proper Ventilation & Source Capture Are Key

In late March 2016, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration released its final rule regarding worker protection from the dangers of breathable silica dust.

With the implementation of the final rule, which has been debated for decades, OSHA estimated more than 600 lives will be saved annually, in addition to 900 or more cases of silicosis being deterred. The agency also stated the final rule will result in net benefits of $7.7 billion on a yearly basis.

The rule becomes effective June 23, 2016, but companies in various industries will have time to comply. Organizations in construction will need to meet the final rule’s compliance by June 23, 2017, while general industry and maritime have until June 23, 2018. Some of these compliance requirements will involve the implementation of modern air filtration systems to filter out the harmful particles.

Companies overseeing oil and hydraulic fracturing operations have more time to meet the requirements, as the deadline for this industry is not until June 23, 2021.

“More than 80 years ago, Labor Secretary Frances Perkins identified silica dust as a deadly hazard and called on employers to fully protect workers,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said. “This rule will save lives. It will enable workers to earn a living without sacrificing their health. It builds upon decades of research and a lengthy stakeholder engagement process – including the consideration of thousands of public comments – to finally give workers the kind of protection they deserve and that Frances Perkins had hoped for them.”

Silica dust.

New Regulations

The final rule will create a new permissible exposure, also known as PEL, for airborne crystalline silica of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air over an eight-hour shift. These new measurements will become the standard for construction, maritime and general industries and are 50 percent less than the old PEL standards, and 80 percent less than the old standards in the maritime and construction industries, Bloomberg BNA stated.

Additionally, the 50 μg/m3 PEL was first recommended as a safe level back in 1974 by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

With these new PEL standards, approximately 2.3 million employees are exposed to silica dust while on the job. Of that number, 940,000 will still be exposed to levels exceeding the new standard.

What is Silica, and Why is it Harmful?

According to OSHA, crystalline silica is found in granite, soil, and sand, among other minerals. The agency also stated that quartz is the most common form of silica, as it’s typically found in stones, concrete, rocks, and more. Silica dust comes from the process of cutting, drilling, or sawing these materials.

Silica dust is especially dangerous to individuals when it is inhaled, the small particles can end up inside the lungs. Over time, the buildup of these particles may lead to serious illnesses, such as silicosis, kidney disease or lung cancer.

Silicosis is especially dangerous because currently, there is no cure for it. The disease forms when scar tissue forms on the lungs, which then reduces one’s ability to breathe, and in turn, an individual then becomes more vulnerable to other lung illnesses, such as tuberculosis.

In most instances, individuals will not develop silicosis until years after the exposure. OSHA stated that chronic silicosis doesn’t start to occur until after nearly 15 to 20 years of low to moderate exposure to silica. Symptoms are not immediately noticeable and individuals will usually have to undergo a chest X-ray. Over time, those with chronic silicosis will experience a shortness of breath while exercising, and as the illness worsens, periods of fatigue and chest pain will occur.

Workers exposed to high silica levels may develop accelerated silicosis, which may start affecting an individual 5-10 years down the line. Symptoms are more severe, as someone may lose weight and become physically weak.

“The new rule requires ventilation systems be used to help decrease the amount of silica dust.”

The Role of Ventilation

During an interview with EHS Today, masonry trainer Tom Ward said the new compliance requirements can generally be met with materials found at a local hardware store. Workers can also protect themselves by using water to limit the amount of silica dust created.

With regular training and proper safety gear, worksites can protect employees and lower silica levels at the same time. In fact, the new rule requires ventilation systems be used to help decrease the amount of silica dust. Fume extractors, for instance, can collect silica as a worker is completing their work at a personal workstation.

Larger ventilation systems can also be used to ensure any lingering particles are filtered out. The final rule is 1,772 pages, and among the document – currently available on the Federal Register – is a section dedicated to some of the costs of ventilation systems. This information will help employers know what to expect as the deadline for compliance approaches.

Additionally, companies can also contact Air Impurities Removal Systems to find out the air ventilation systems best suited for the removal of silica dust in order to preserve the health of workers.

Indoor Air Quality Risks for Oil Refinery Welders

Refineries should ensure their staff have proper ventilation to protect against toxic fumes

Petroleum companies should ensure their staff have proper ventilation to protect against toxic fumes.

When companies do not protect the respiratory health of their workers, they could face severe penalties.

An oil refinery was recently fined by the Wyoming Occupational Safety Health Administration for multiple workplace safety violations, including for failure to protect workers from hazardous fumes, the Casper Star-Tribune reported. The 22 safety violations could cause the company to be fined over $700,000 – the biggest fine ever issued in Wyoming. During an inspection, it was discovered the company did not implement proper safety controls to protect workers and employees were found to not have emergency response training.

“It is pretty unusual,” said John Ysebaert, an administrator with Wyoming OSHA. “We have several other refineries in the state and have not had this pattern of issues.”

Some penalties were due to reports of 20 refinery workers becoming ill after exposure to toxic fumes. These chemical hazards included hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide.

“Certainly when you have 20 people overcome by fumes, they did not have an effective process or procedure,” Ysebaert said.

In addition to these chemical fumes, petroleum refineries can generate different air contaminants, including particulate matter, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Combat welding fume exposure for workers in refineries

Oil and gas industry workers who are commonly exposed to toxic gases include metalworking staff. Employees performing hot work, as described by OSHA, through welding, cutting or brazing are at risk for a variety of injuries and illnesses – from skin injuries from sparks or fires to exposure to welding fumes.

As another major hazard, welding fumes can be considered toxic. To limit the health and safety risks associated with toxic gases, or what OSHA considers a “special hazard,” the agency recommends that employers make sure there is enough ventilation from welding and cutting fumes. Confined spaces especially need to have proper ventilation as toxic gases can accumulate.

For controlling toxic gas exposure, OSHA suggests employers implement mechanical ventilation systems for welding fume extraction if employees are working in confined areas, such as fume extraction equipment.

Workers at fined oil refineries were exposed to hydrogen sulfide, which is considered a flammable gas. Welding employees who work around hydrogen sulfide could become burned if a flash fire or explosion occurred. Additional personnel should be stationed in order to guard against this risk or prevent injury to welding workers should materials combust.

Industry regulation and worker respiratory safety news brought to you by Air Impurities Removal Systems, Inc.

Implement Air Purification Solutions to Prevent Hazardous Drug Exposure

Implement air purification solutions to prevent hazardous drug exposure 1

While drugs can help patients recover from devastating ailments and diseases, the drugs administered to patients may harm healthcare workers. Long term exposure to these drugs, such as those used for chemotherapy, could result in workers themselves developing negative health effects. An estimated 8 million healthcare workers may be exposed to hazardous drugs that may be harmful to their health, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Workplace exposure may result in acute and chronic health conditions, including skin rashes, and staff may even develop cancers such as leukemia.

Healthcare staff who may work in a position that involves exposure to these types of drugs include: pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, nurses, physicians and physician assistants as well as operating room personnel.

“Workers may be exposed to hazardous drugs when they create aerosols, generate dust, clean up spills, or touch contaminated surfaces when compounding, administering, or disposing of hazardous drugs or patient waste,” according to NIOSH.

NIOSH said the amount of exposure to hazardous drugs determines how toxic they may be to healthcare staff. In knowing these health risks, employers may want to encourage workers to protect themselves using engineering controls and by following administrative policies when handling these drugs.

Techniques and equipment to prevent exposure to hazardous drugs

​NIOSH recommends that employers perform a risk assessment of the workplace to identify the drugs that workers will be exposed to, such as the types of drugs that are administered and handled. The agency recommends that employers determine the working environment, including the physical layout of work areas. In this way, healthcare facilities can better improve the safety procedures and utilize the engineering controls they have for hazardous drugs. 

Workers could choose to implement closed system transfer devices (CSTDs), which are becoming increasingly used in hospitals, according to Pharmacy Practice News. A CSTD is a medical device to transfer drugs without hazardous drugs or fumes from escaping. While hospitals could purchase these devices, healthcare employers could also consider employing other engineering controls that focus on cleaning air to prevent exposure.

When drug preparation causes hazardous emissions, air purification is key. Removing toxic fumes before they enter a worker’s breathing space is crucial for ensuring employee wellness. Indoor air cleaning equipment such as our 989 model will help pharmacists and healthcare facilities maintain a healthy IAQ.

Hospital and medical facility news brought to you by Air Impurities Removal Systems, Inc.

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.

Industry regulation and worker respiratory safety news brought to you by Air Impurities Removal Systems, Inc.

Understanding How Positive / Negative Pressure Machines Are Used in Healthcare

Understanding How Positive / Negative Pressure Machines Are Used in Healthcare 1

Two years into the coronavirus pandemic, we, as a global population, continue to find ways to keep our indoor air quality clean and free of potentially threatening particles, dust, and germs. Never has there been a time in modern history that we have faced such an urgency.

Public health emergencies, such as the Covid-19 crisis, require systematic protocols to protect citizens from airborne contaminants and infectious diseases. The medical community and the patients they labor to protect are even more vulnerable than the general public and require many extra layers of protection against illness.

Existing healthcare practices generally include personal protective equipment and accessories, patient isolation, and environmental control. But for the most aggressive communicable diseases, additional measures such as a negative pressure machine are recommended. 

To understand its effectiveness in this circumstance, one must become familiar with this particular piece of equipment and understand how it operates.

What is Negative Pressure Air Cleaning?

This type of air purifier, when using negative pressure, removes airborne pollutants from a contained space so as to prevent the spread of contamination to other parts of a building or structure. 

How Does a Negative Pressure Machine Work?

The unit creates a negative vacuum that pulls air in and through a filter (such as HEPA or ULPA) and attached ductwork to remove impurities such as microbes, dust, and molds. Thus, preventing dirty air from leaving the space.

What Is Positive Pressure Air Cleaning?  

When using positive pressure, the air cleaner maintains a higher room air pressure than that of the surrounding environment, meaning particles are filtered as air leaves a room and are prevented from returning.

Are They CDC or OSHA Approved?

Neither the CDC nor OSHA approve indoor air quality equipment – to say a piece of equipment is CDC approved is misleading. Both organizations set standards that need to be met by businesses and healthcare facilities. Quality air cleaning equipment can help such organizations meet these standards and adhere to such regulations.

What are examples of Positive/Negative Pressure Rooms?

Patients with infectious diseases, such as the Covid-19 virus, require isolation treatment in a space with a negative pressure machine. This reduces the chance of germ transmission via doorways and HVAC systems. Other examples of medical spaces that require negative pressure machine cleaning are waiting rooms, ERs, facility bathrooms, and decontamination spaces.

Positive pressure rooms require consistent filtration of harmful pollutants so clean air is always maintained. Examples are operating rooms, laboratory clean rooms, and in vitro fertilization labs. 

The type of pressure machine product that is right for a given application will depend on whether or not an area or room and the air within need to be isolated or protected from outside contaminants. At Air Impurities Removal Systems, Inc. we provide to our customers our Extract-All® Ultra Clean Air room air cleaning system. It is a portable, self-contained high-efficiency system that uses HEPA or ULPA filtration. For more information, contact us for a free estimate with one of our clean air experts.