Manufacturing News

Protecting workers against dust and quartz emissions

CONSTRUCTION, mining, building material and glass manufacturers, agriculture, and foundry work are all occupations that are frequently at risk of dust and breathable quartz emissions.

Operations that involve shifting earth or cutting of construction materials force dust and quartz into the air and the breathing zone of a worker.

Fine particles of dust from silica are emitted into the circulating airstream and constant non-protected exposure results in accumulation within the lungs.

Silica is sand and is the material used to make a computer chip. Many are unaware of the possible health side effects when in the form of a fine dust particle. Side effects are from accumulation, resulting in obstruction and calcification of lung tissues.

Many occupational consequences are not realised till the statistics build up and people report ill-health side.

Breathable quartz criterion has been revised on numerous occasions on the government department web site to reflect the present findings of medical or scientific data.

Industry and employers subject to the contaminant exposure are required to comply with an eight hour Time Weighted Average of 0.1mg/m3.

Occupational site sampling quantifies quartz exposure levels by gravimetrically capturing the airborne particles over a 4-hour period; to assess the amounts inhaled by a member of staff throughout the work shift.

To maintain an accurate assessment of operator exposure to their breathing zone, the atmospheric sampling method and equipment is controlled by the Australian Standard AS2985-2004.

Medical research and statistical analysis of morbidity data, suggests breathable quartz particles when inhaled can accumulate in the respiratory system and lungs, causing varying adverse health effects such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Tuberculosis (TB), lung cancer, lupus, bronchitis, scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis.

The common symptom of silicosis is scarring to the lungs and respiratory pathways, by accumulation of quartz particles as a result of calcified granulomas.

Deposits in the respiratory system can be observed by initial symptoms, of shortness in breath, cough, occasional chest pain, loss of appetite and minor fatigue.

Early symptoms progressively develop into more severe side effects and, as a result from constant exposure, lead to further damage to the lungs.

Severe symptoms that reportedly can occur are a worsening of shortness in breath, cough and chest pains, weight loss, cyanosis (blue tinge to skin a result of lack of oxygen) and respiratory failure.

A medical practitioner can diagnose silicosis by performing a chest X-ray to verify lung damage.

Therefore health surveillance and medical checks are necessary for industries where silica products are used or earth-moving operations are performed.

Together, prevention, engineered control measures, periodic evaluation of work conditions, management of work practices and ongoing occupational training can eliminate respiratory side affects taking place within the workplace.

A respiratory protection device is assigned a classification level whereby, depending on the protection needed, the efficiency of the device to absorb dust and quartz particles is rated.

A site may require the highest level of protection due to large dust contributions during production and therefore might apply a class 3 – filtering self rescue mask, which achieves only 0.01% of dust penetration through the device.

Control measure options consist of mechanical methods or engineering controls such as automation, use of local exhaust ventilation at source of exposure, constant mechanical ventilation or production modifications by enclosing, isolating or segregating production line processes.

Overall, employees and employers have a shared responsibility to prevent occupational safety hazards and management policies should reflect and continually enforce this emphasis by regular training in the workplace.

Benbow Environmental 02 9890 5099.

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