Breathe easy in the workplace

A recent post on the BBC website highlighted growing concern over the effect of airborne contaminants on the nation’s health.

While the focus was on the respiratory and cardiovascular risks associated with nitrogen oxide and particulate matter from diesel engines, the central theme was the need to reduce as far as possible exposure to fine particles. This applies as much to the workplace as it does to urban environments.

While there are sensible steps that we can all take to minimise our exposure to harmful particles on the streets (by closing vehicle windows and vents in congested areas for example), the workplace is generally less flexible because of the defined processes required to manufacture goods. That’s why the Health & Safety Executive is rigorous in the application of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations – and why employers rely on fume extraction systems such as those developed by BOFA to keep their people safe.

Of course, not all airborne contaminants present significant risk to human health. Those particles larger than 50 microns are not usually inhaled (a human hair is around 70 microns); those of more than 10 microns become trapped in the nasal cavity or upper throat area; and particles 3-5 microns in size can reach the upper lung area but are ejected by the mucociliary system through coughing or swallowing.

It’s those contaminants measuring 2 microns or less that are of particular concern for respiratory function because these can penetrate into the alveolar lung region more than any others. Moreover, while particles of less than 0.5 microns will mostly be exhaled, if soluble they can diffuse into the blood stream or pass into the pleural cavity. And while the particle itself may not be a problem, they can carry complex chemicals and some of these can trigger reactions in the body.

Unfortunately, particles smaller than 30 microns are invisible to the human eye, which means that airborne contaminants measuring < 2 microns, emitted through industrial processes, present a danger hidden from sight that can only be removed through effective fume extraction. That’s why many thousands of businesses around the world look to BOFA to provide safe and effective local exhaust ventilation (LEV) technologies matched specifically to their needs.

Take the laser industry, for example. When lasers interact with solid materials, absorption of laser light energy causes a rapid rise in temperature, usually to a level at which a complex combination of softening, melting, ablation and/or boiling occurs.

This rise in temperature also causes the temperature of the boundary layer of air to increase, causing rapid expansion, with the resulting pressure front projecting particles and gases in all directions away from the laser contact zone.

Potential health problems are usually associated with plastics, which give off Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) when lasered, most of which have associated Occupational Exposure Limits. PVC is worth a special mention in this context since it releases hydrogen chloride and small amounts of phosgene, both of which are extremely toxic.

Consequently, ineffective LEV control can cause inhalation injury, ranging from minor respiratory discomfort to acute lung and airway injury and – in extreme cases – can even result in death.
Users of BOFA products benefit from advanced filter technology, developed over 30 years of working across a wide range of industrial processes. Not only does this ensure superior LEV effectiveness, it also means filters perform to a higher level with less wastage, for a cleaner, healthier working environment.

To find out more about BOFA innovation, call +44 (0) 1202 699 444 or email us.

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