Employers who fail to maintain their fume and dust extraction systems using accredited technicians could be putting the health of their people at risk and damaging their productivity.
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations in the UK mandate a formal performance test for extraction technology at least every 14 months by a competent and appropriately qualified engineer. These assessments are rigorous and certify that systems are effective in reducing exposure to potentially harmful airborne contaminants to as near to zero as possible and ensure compliance with specified Workplace Exposure Limits (WELs).
Even if your business is not based in the UK, good practice suggests you should carry out regular checks for these very reasons.
Leading extraction systems provider BOFA says that while the statutory test is a legal requirement, companies should also focus on regular filter and system performance checks along with professional maintenance to optimise the return on their original investment and ensure no drop-off in protective function.
“Employer responsibility doesn’t begin with the installation of fume and dust extraction technology and end with the 14-month inspection,” says John Horsey, Technical Manager at BOFA.
“They owe a duty of care to their people to ensure that performance is maintained throughout the intervening period, firstly through some simple checks that they can do themselves, and secondly by ensuring that they use properly accredited technicians for service support. Without this type of regime, workers are at potential risk from ineffective extraction performance and there is a greater likelihood of unscheduled production downtime.”
The routine checks should include regular visual inspection of air flow/pressures to ensure optimal fume and dust capture, hose connections, filter condition and looking for signs of particulate residue, though visibility will depend on the process involved and the size of any airborne contaminants.
When it comes to test accreditation, BOFA’s UK-based service engineers are certified to British Occupational Hygiene Society P601 to assess both its own systems and those of other manufacturers across a wide range of processes including, but not limited to, hand soldering (tip and volume extraction), fume cabinets, reflow ovens, wave solder ovens, laser engraving and marking, printing, dust extraction, vent-to-atmosphere systems, and ducted systems.
This involves checking airflow and pressure readings, and effectiveness of control through a smoke test or Tyndall lamp before the issue of a certificate of compliance, which is then added to the required minimum five-year inspection log maintained on behalf of customers.
BOFA also offers a ProTECT local exhaust ventilation (LEV) service plan which, in addition to initial system installation and commissioning, and annual inspection test and certification, includes a test to measure levels of any Volatile Organic Compounds in exhaust gases, operator training, on-site support, loan units for return-to-factory repairs and telephone help desk support.
The company also provides a free 10-point system health check as a first step for organisations to determine compliance with the law and flag up any areas of concern.