Airborne hazards exposed

Workers in the manufacturing industry reportedly have one of the highest rates of exposure to airborne hazards. Is it time to control the air quality of your workplace? Emily Mobbs writes.

According to a recent report released by Safe Work Australia, an estimated 39% of Australian workers are exposed to airborne hazards in the workplace – 16.7% of those are from the manufacturing industry.

The report also highlights approximately 64% of the manufacturing workers surveyed reported they were subject to airborne hazards. Construction was the only industry to record a higher rate, with 69% of workers exposed to dangerous substances.

The document, titled Exposure to dust, gases, vapours, smoke and fumes and the provision of controls for these airborne hazards in Australian workplaces, is based on results from the 2008 National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance NHEWS) survey.

Data for the survey was collected from 4,500 Australian workers, 1,900 of them from the five national priority industries which include: manufacturing; transport and storage; construction; health and community services and agriculture; and forestry and fishing. The remaining 2,600 workers were from other industries.

Safe Work Australia chairman, Tom Phillips, says of the workers in the manufacturing industry who reported exposure to airborne hazards, 35% were exposed to metal dusts and fumes, 31% to low toxicity dusts, 23% to organic chemicals, and 23% to industrial and medical gases and fumes.

"These sorts of airborne substances can have a range of dangerous properties including: poisons; sensitisers; carcinogens; reproductive toxins; asphyxiants; and asthmagens or allergens. Exposure to these can lead to a range of possible disease outcomes," Phillips told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

Phillips claims an estimated 2,200 to 7,000 Australians die each year from occupational diseases and it is an important requirement for all manufacturing businesses to familiarise themselves with their legal obligations. Legal requirements are detailed in work health and safety acts which are administered by state and territory government authorities.

As a general rule, he says manufacturing facilities should implement workplace control measures such as masks, respirators, ventilation systems and reduce the time an employee spends in environments prone to dust, smoke, fume and gases.

Excision specialises in dust and fume control and according to the company’s spokesperson, air quality in the workplace has become an increased topic of concern.

"We have experienced amazing response from our awareness campaigns and there is now a greater, widespread call for more efficient and better workplace conditions. Concerns for employee health is becoming paramount in mangers’ minds as is the application of stringent standards," the spokesperson said.

Manufacturers working in fabrication workshops, general engineering and maintenance areas and those who weld or grind stainless steel, aluminium and galvanised metals are reportedly particularly vulnerable to serious respiratory diseases.

According to Excision, such environments require further control measures than personal protection equipment PPE) alone.

"PPE is relatively ineffective and only protects the individual," the company said.

"The first step for controlling dust and fume is to analyse what the hazards are and then take the appropriate measures depending upon the severity of those hazards."

Excision offers a range of German manufactured dust and fume extractors including: stand-alone fans; stationary and central suction systems; and filter units for dust, fume and mist.

The company is also developing a new Torchmaster unit which can be connected to a welding torch with automatic start/stop operation. This unit is designed to extract the welding fumes and dust from the source without disturbing the welding process.



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