Dust, Fumes & Dangerous Gasses

How personal air sampling pumps can protect employees from unseen dangers

By: Tim Turney, Contributor

Many industrial workers are exposed to some amount of potentially hazardous dust, fumes, gasses or vapors every day at their place of work. (photo courtesy Casella)

Many industrial workers are exposed to some amount of potentially hazardous dust, fumes, gasses or vapors every day at their place of work. The latest statistics by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) found that in 2021, 551 fatalities were reported to be due to exposure to hazardous substances, with 72 of these caused by inhalation of a harmful substance. This is the highest figure between 2017-2021.

The Hazard Communication (29 CFR 1910.1200) standard, which requires that the hazards of all chemicals are accurately classified and transmitted to employees, and the Respiratory Protection (29 CFR 1910.134) standard, which requires the suitable limitation of atmospheric contamination from employers, were two of the top-10 most frequently violated standards across general industry for the 2022 financial year in the U.S.[1]

Protecting workers through the compliance of outlined standards and related health and safety laws is one of the most important responsibilities of employers, with malpractice potentially leading to serious health conditions and legal ramifications.

Types of Hazards

Dust: Dust exists in different sizes; the main three are known as “inhalable,” which can be breathed into the nose or mouth, and “respirable,” which is most dangerous and penetrates beyond the terminal bronchioles into the gas-exchange region of the lungs. Dust is created from many common processes found in industrial settings including cutting, drilling, grinding or crushing.

Approximately 2.3 million workers in the U.S. are exposed to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) or silica dust every year, which has a very low exposure limit of just 50 µg/m3.

As with any known workplace health risk, the most effective means of reducing worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica and other dusts is a correctly implemented scheme of controls using the hierarchy of controls. This can help reduce both the likelihood of workers developing health complications, such as silicosis, and the potential legal ramifications for employers.

Measures include a correctly executed program of air monitoring, which can include both monitoring at the site level and on an individual employee level using personal sampling pumps. Air monitoring can quantify exposure levels or, if controls are in place, check that they are effective and measure any residual risk.

Hazardous gases and vapors: Many hazardous gases and vapors are colorless and thus invisible to the naked eye. Any workplace subject to levels of hazardous gases and vapors, as described by OSHA’s Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs)[2], should employ monitoring practices to ensure control measures are effective and employees are protected.

Personal Sampling Pumps

Pumps, such as the Apex2 operate with a highly accurate flow rate to ensure a known volume of air is sampled and conform to all relevant ISO standards, give industrial hygienists and site managers the peace of mind that data captured is reliable and unaffected by pump pulsation. (photo courtesy Casella)

Personal sampling pumps must adhere to the standard ISO 13137:2022. The standard sets limits for required flow stability and maximum permissible pulsation levels, enabling users of personal air sampling pumps to adopt a consistent approach for flow rate assessment.

This standard provides a comprehensive framework that specifies test methods to determine performance of air sampling pumps and ensures that environmental influences, such as air pressure and temperature, have a minimal impact on the accuracy of the sampled air, which in turn could affect sample results.

Personal air sampling pumps are bodily work units that draw a volume of air at a known flow rate very accurately. Used in conjunction with an air sampling accessory, they can monitor for dust, vapors or gases by sampling the substance onto a media—which is then sent to a laboratory.

When using personal air sampling pumps, it’s essential that you refer to OSHA’s PELs to ensure that the levels of potentially hazardous airborne substances that workers are exposed to are at a safe concentration—not just below the exposure limit—but as low as is reasonably practicable.

Proper air sampling equipment—calibrated properly—and an awareness of the limitations and impact on data collection that the equipment itself can have, should be at the forefront of correct air monitoring procedures, as well as the fight against “the new asbestos.”

Pumps that operate with a highly accurate flow rate, to ensure a known volume of air is sampled and conform to all relevant ISO standards, give industrial hygienists and site managers the peace of mind that data captured is reliable and unaffected by pump pulsation. Low pulsations are also particularly important when sampling for crystalline silica, as the sampling head is a cyclone, and only at low pulsation levels will it get the correct respirable sample.

While awareness of negative health effects of airborne contaminants is on the rise, correct procedure, safety-focused culture, and the right equipment and control measures will ensure that employees are protected in the workplace.

Employee Awareness

Employee health must remain a priority and a core component of any workplace health and safety management system. Likewise, monitoring must continue to evolve in accordance with changing production methods; the industry is already moving in a positive direction.

In addition, education and training that raises workers’ awareness of the risks of dust exposure is integral in ensuring that they understand how to prioritize and protect their health.

About the Author:

Tim Turney is Global Marketing Manager at Casella and graduated as an engineer from Queen Mary and Westfield in London. Since starting at Casella in 1998, Tim has been involved in the acoustics and air sampling industry, specializing in measurement and instrumentation technologies. For more information about air sampling, monitoring and calibration solutions visit: www.casellasolutions.com.

[1]https://www.osha.gov/top10citedstandards

[2]https://www.osha.gov/annotated-pels/table-z-1

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