As industrial health protection strategies go, face masks come a long way down the hierarchy of actions employers should take to keep their people safe from airborne contaminants.
The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is regarded as the final option among the preventative actions cited under health and safety regulation. The premise is that if an organisation cannot do away with a potentially harmful process, they should try to change the process to make it safer, enclose it to prevent airborne contamination, invest in effective local exhaust ventilation (such as an extraction system) … and only consider PPE as a last resort.
Yet a surprising number of businesses still prescribe face masks to their people – particularly for technicians using small hand tools – in the misguided belief that this provides appropriate protection. Some employers may point to the regulated requirement to inspect and measure masks annually, but human nature being what it is, people will often lift masks to make breathing easier or to provide better visibility.
While a mask may capture larger dust particles, there are much smaller contaminants invisible to the naked eye that can pass around or through masks and cause significant and long term health problems. Just because harmful emissions cannot be seen, doesn’t mean they are not there.
Dental laboratories face particular workplace safety challenges. Here, technicians are subject to known occupational hazards resulting from fume and dust generated through the milling, repairing and hand finishing of products. If left uncontrolled, most dust levels will exceed regulated occupational exposure limits.
Indeed, research suggests that dental technicians are on average exposed to 12kg of fine dust each year, generated by the working of materials such as zirconia, cobalt, nickel, beryllium, quartz, plaster, gold and plastic. Particulate can be anything between 0.01 micron and 1 micron in size (a human hair is approximately 70 microns) and all can enter the lungs.
Along with fumes resulting from waxes, resins and silica – and the effects of monomer mixing – this all adds up to a toxic array of health and safety risks known to cause:
• Irritation to eyes, skin and mucous membranes
• Allergic dermatitis
• Abnormalities or lesions in organs
• Central nervous system, liver toxicity and fertility disturbances
• Dental Technician’s Pneumoconiosis (DTP)
• Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – also known as ‘Technician’s lung’
Using an effective fume and dust extraction system – such as BOFA’s purpose-designed DentalPRO range – will not only control these risks by creating a cleaner, healthier environment, it will also prevent the build-up of dust on valuable production equipment.
Each DentalPRO system incorporates large capacity, high efficiency pre and HEPA filters and powerful vacuums to capture fume and dust and keep breathing zones safe. This provides technicians with the reassurance they need that potentially harmful emissions are being removed from the workplace, while simultaneously enabling employers to maintain the highest levels of quality and productivity.
Does your workplace comply with Health and Safety regulations?
Check out our Employers H&S emissions checklist to see where you stand.