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PLASTIC FUMES AND DUST
Harmful dusts and fumes are released during the processing and manufacturing of plastics. These hazardous particles can cause serious health issues to employees if not correctly controlled. Plastic fume extraction systems, or dust extraction, are designed to remove these particles at source before they come into contact with operators. It is important for employers to carry out risk assessments to ensure their employees are working in a safe and fume free environment.
WHY CONTROL PLASTICS FUMES?
During the processing of plastics, or the manufacturing of plastic products, dust and fumes are released. Continued exposure to plastic fumes and dusts can be hazardous to health. The composition of plastics can vary, however any plastic dusts or fumes can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and lungs. There are also links between exposure to PVC and lung cancer. For this reason the HSE recommend that sufficient LEV, fume extraction systems be implemented to control these substances.
WORKPLACE EXPOSURE LIMIT
The workplace exposure limit (WEL) for unidentified dusts is 5 mg/m3. This is based on the average dust content in the air over and 8 hour period. Tests can be carried out to calculate an operators WEL, and is based on average exposure during the work period. If the WEL exceeds the maximum 5mg/m3 then improvements or additional control measures must be put in place.
When looking at potential solutions to control the exposure of airborne contaminates from plastics, consideration should be given to the ease of use and comparability with workflow. Plastics fume extraction systems built with localised hoods remove dusts and fumes at source before they can enter breathable space. The plastics fumes can then be safely conveyed to a centralised location for further processing or removal.
Depending on the process, local hoods are not always a practical option. Using risk assessments other suitable control measures can be used, such as a ‘push pull’ system or air showers. These can be used to to direct dust and fumes from plastics away from operators and into a duct or filtering system. Employees’ WEL should be reduced to as low as reasonably practicable using protective control measures. RPE should only be used as a last resort.
HOW TO ASSESS RISKS
When dealing with harmful substances, such as plastics gases and fumes, a risk assessment should be completed. We have put together an example on how you can evaluate your processes.
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