A health hazard to workers if they are not properly controlled; dust and fumes are produced during the manufacture of rubber products. In this blog post, we will discuss the ways in which dust and fumes are produced in the rubber industry and the various health risks that can arise from being exposed to these contaminants. We will also talk about the workplace exposure limits.
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Sources of dust and fumes
The production of rubber products generates hazardous particles: the main source of fumes is from the grinding, milling or pulverizing of raw materials. Fumes are also produced when the rubber and synthetic polymers are combined with chemicals, and in the subsequent processes that are required to convert the rubber into a finished product. Visible fumes are present as a result of the vulcanization process, which is used to cure or harden rubber materials.
Dust is created during the manufacturing process, when ingredients are handled, weighed or added/mixed with uncured natural or synthetic elastomers.
Exposure can lead to a variety of health problems including irritation of the nose, throat and lungs; coughing; difficulty breathing; and sneezing. In more severe cases, being subjected to high concentrations of dust and fumes can cause lung damage, cancer and other serious conditions. Certain known carcinogens have been successfully prohibited or substituted in the rubber processing stages.
Workplace exposure limits
To protect workers from the health hazards, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) has established workplace exposure limits (WELs) for these contaminants. The WEL for rubber process dust is 6 mg/m3 total particulate matter concentration in an 8-hour shift. The WEL for rubber fumes is 0.6 mg/m3 concentration in the same timeframe.
Employers are required to monitor employees to ensure that they are in a controlled environment, where dust/fumes remain below these levels. When exposure exceeds the WELs, employers must implement engineering controls, work practices and respiratory protection to alleviate the risks.
How to lower the risks
Methods of controlling dust and fumes can include:
- Wearing personal protective equipment, such as a respirator, to protect workers from inhaling dust particles.
- Training workers on proper procedures for controlling dust and fume exposure.
- Enclosing the work area to prevent dust from escaping.
- Using extraction and ventilation systems to remove harmful substances from the air.
- Conducting air monitoring to assess employee exposures and determine if controls are effective.
Often, the most effective way of reducing the risk from these dangerous particles is to ensure they are extracted as soon as possible. AirBenches are designed to capture dust and fumes using internal filters, before returning clean air to the room. This means that the problem materials can be ventilated out almost immediately, which keeps workers safe, while reducing the need for protective equipment.
Requisite protection must be used when the permissible exposure limits set out by COSHH are exceeded. By taking these precautions, employers can help protect their workers, and, indeed, their profits.