Learning the lessons of effective LEV

Last year, in celebration of our 30th anniversary, BOFA donated a number of fume extraction systems to higher education establishments local to our head office.

We were pleased to share our world-leading technology to ensure that students, technicians and lecturers worked in the safest possible conditions.

At BOFA, we want everyone to go home healthy, and with the increasing role of technology in education, this means doing what we can to raise awareness in schools, colleges and universities of the dangers presented by airborne contaminants.

In tertiary education, extraction systems are used extensively to remove potentially harmful fume and dust associated with laser technology, chemical engineering, 3D printing and electronics – and we partner with many institutions to ensure effective local exhaust ventilation (LEV) is in place.

That said, it’s probably worth some bite-sized revision about the potential risks associated with laser cutting and engraving, and soldering for electronics.

Laser risks:

In laser activities, various chemical vapours, aerosols or fumes can be emitted, depending on the material being worked. The very fine dust resulting from laser cutting or marking wood, ply, paper and mdf, for example, is sub-micron in size and almost all is respirable. Dust of any kind that can be breathed into the nose or mouth is classified a risk under Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) at concentrations equal to or greater than 10 mg/m³ over an 8-hour time-weighted average period (TWA). The equivalent TWA for inhalable dust that can pass through the nose and mouth into the lungs, putting respiratory function at risk, is 4 mg/m³.
The lasering of acrylic emits methyl methacrylate vapour and can result in sensitisation or allergic reaction, leading to contact dermatitis or occupational asthma. This chemical has a TWA exposure limit of 208 mg/m³. PVC should never be lasered because it releases highly toxic fumes.

Soldering risks:

Inhalation of solder fumes will cause irritation to nose, throat and respiratory organs, and any extended or repeated exposure can cause hypersensitivity and lead to occupational asthma. The exposure limits for rosin-based solder fume are as low as reasonably practicable below an 8-hour TWA of 0.05 mg/m³, and a 15-minute TWA of 0.15 mg/m³.

By law, any employer must assess the risk to worker health and install appropriate LEV, ideally a fume extraction system. They must also test each LEV system every 14 months (effectively every year) and keep records for five years.

Our experience is that some establishments meet these standards to the letter – others do not, mainly through a lack of knowledge. For example, we have found good extraction systems rendered ineffective by blocked filters; seen unfiltered fumes vented through a wall next to a drinking fountain; and ‘vent-to-air’ systems – which are meant to vent above roof height – dispensing fumes at window level.

So, with exam season about to get into full swing, now is probably a good time for education business managers, departmental leaders and health and safety to study their systems and check that everything is in grade A condition.

BOFA’s ADVANTAGE range of fume extraction and filtration systems are designed for applications that generate particulate and gaseous volatile organic compounds within laser industries. For soldering, BOFA’s range of Tip and Volume and FumeCAB systems are cost effective solutions for keeping the user’s breathing zone clear of potential harmful airborne contaminants. To find out more please contact us here.

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