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Why is respiratory protection so important?

From making you sneeze to aggravating breathing conditions such as asthma, we are all familiar with the problems that dust and fumes create in our homes. However, dust can cause more serious problems within the work place.

03 June 2019

From making you sneeze to aggravating breathing conditions such as asthma, we are all familiar with the problems that dust and fumes can create in our homes. However, dust can cause even more serious problems within the workplace. If not properly managed, contaminates produced on a daily basis can damage your health and prove fatal.

Repeated exposure to vapours, fumes and dust is a health hazard. Vapours and small dust particles are invisible to the naked eye, but just because these can’t be seen does not mean the operator isn’t being exposed to the hazard.

Dust can be placed into two categories, inhalable and respirable dust:
• Inhalable dust is the fraction of a dust cloud that can be inhaled through the nose and mouth
• Respirable dust is the more hazardous of the two, as the particles are tiny enough to get right into the smallest areas of the lungs and cause blockages and irritation.

If the respirable dust is toxic or even carcinogenic, then the lungs may be able to absorb it more quickly into the bloodstream. Without putting control measures in place, continued exposure can lead to occupational health issues such as chronic asthma and other conditions.

Your responsibilities as an employer

As an employer, you have a legal responsibility under The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, COSHH Regulations 2002 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to control substances hazardous to health in your workplace, and to prevent and adequately control your employees’ exposure to those substances.

How can I comply with these regulations?

Firstly, is there a way to reduce the amount of fumes or dust produced by your work processes? If not, is there a way to make it less airborne, such as wetting down material prior to and during cutting?

One of the most common ways in which you can control fumes and dust is to extract it from the environment using a Local Exhaust Ventilation system (LEV). However, these systems do require servicing to ensure they remain effective at extracting the fumes or dust.

If reducing the amount of fumes or dust produced or removing them directly from the work environment does not reduce them to reasonable levels, then respiratory protection should be provided for operatives.

There are several types of respiratory protection available on the market. All of these except air fed hoods require face fit testing to ensure are effective at protecting the operative using them – this includes the disposable dust masks.

What are my employees’ responsibilities?

Workers have a duty to take care of their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by their actions at work. Workers must co-operate with employers and co-workers to help everyone meet their legal requirements.

As a worker, if you have specific queries or concerns relating to health and safety in your workplace, talk to your employer, manager/supervisor or a health and safety representative.

If you require further advice or guidance on protecting your workforce against the hazards of vapours, fumes and dust, then please don’t delay and get in touch with us.

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