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EXPOSURE TO PLASTIC FUME 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. Dust extraction systems 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 dust free environment.

WHY IS CONTROLLING PLASTICS NECESSARY?

During the processing of plastics or the manufacturing of plastic products, dusts and fumes are released. Continued exposure to plastic dusts and fumes 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 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.

Large Bag Plastic Pellets
PVC Dust Extraction System for Composite Door Manufacture

HOW TO CONTROL EXPOSURE

When looking at potential solutions to control the exposure of airborne contaminates, consideration should be given to the ease of use and comparability with workflow. Dust extraction systems with localised hoods remove dusts and fumes at source before they can enter breathable space. The dusts and fumes can then be safely conveyed to a centralised location for further processing or disposal.

Depending on the type of 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 fumes and dusts 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 a risk assessment should be completed.  We have put together an example on how you can evaluate your processes.

#1 Identify the Risks

The first part of the risk assessment should be to identify the hazards

#1 Identify the Risks

Look at the process and identify the potential hazards. What are the harmful fumes/dusts being emitted? who is effected and how far reaching is the exposure?

#2 How often is this used

Frequency of use is important when determining how to tackle control

#2 How often is this used

If an operator is exposed for a short period say once per week RPE could be used, however long term exposure should be controlled using more permanent measure

#3 Change the Process

Are there safer materials or processed that could be used?

#3 Change the Process

Try to identify if its possible to change the process to reduce exposure. Could a different material be used? Could pre-cut or pre-finsihed materials be used to reduce the exposure?

#4 Which Controls Work

Determine if and what controls should be implemented to reduce the risk

#4 Which Controls Work

Based on the information what controls best suit your environment? can extraction be added? if no there are no suitable controls RPE can be considered

#5 Consider PPE/RPE

This should be the last resort when identifying control measures

#5 Consider PPE/RPE

If there are no other methods available to control the fume/dust and the process can’t be changed, then PPE/RPE can be considered. A separate risk assessment should be undertaken

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