In a survey carried out by the Safety and Health Engineering Partnership (SHEP), of which Filtermist Systems Limited is a member, 84% of respondents stated that the Covid pandemic has made them more aware of how virus, bacteria and other particles are transmitted through the air, and 70% advised that Covid has made them more aware of the dangers of airborne particles.
“Whilst Covid transmission is an extreme example of the risks posed by exposure to airborne particles, this is only one type of particle which poses a risk to human health,” comments SHEP Chairman Chris Buxton, CEO of the British Fluid Power Association (BFPA). “People working in the manufacturing and engineering industries can be exposed to a wide range of particulate which can have detrimental effects on their health, so this is not a new issue in our industry – although obviously prior to Covid it was predominantly dust, oil mist, fumes, smoke and chemicals which were the main offenders.”
SHEP was established in 2018 to provide a focus and communications platform for all issues relating to Health & Safety in the Engineering sector, participating Trade Associations and their members.
“As the current HSE manufacturing workplan is focussing on trying to reduce incidents of occupational lung disease, SHEP has undertaken a number of activities to align itself with this objective and help the HSE reach smaller SMEs in our industry,” continues Chris. “It is encouraging to see that 97% of the respondents to our survey advised that they understood the risks posed by exposure to industrial airborne contaminants and 84% are confident their employer has sufficient control measures in place.
“However, what is worrying is the fact that 27% of responses advised that their employer does not provide training on how to use control measures and 21% admitted that their local exhaust ventilation (LEV) systems are tested by a competent person less than once every 14 months.
“Providing controls is a great start, but if operatives do not understand how to use them, they may have little impact. LEV is widely regarded as the most effective control for airborne particles and COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) regulations require a minimum testing frequency of 14 months – this means that potentially many UK manufacturers are still not adhering to this requirement.”
Chris continues, “Exposure to airborne particles in the workplace can result in a wide range of life-changing respiratory diseases including COPD, occupational asthma and occupational hypersensitivity pneumonitis. A range of initiatives including Breathe Freely from SHEP member BOHS, and this week’s ‘Love your Lungs Week’ from the British Lung Foundation aim to keep this subject in the spotlight, but it’s vital that employers are continually ensuring they are doing everything they can to protect their employees from hazardous substances in the workplace.”
The HSE is currently inspecting businesses to ensure that exposure to metalworking fluids and welding fume are being properly controlled. The SHEP survey revealed that 36.5% of respondents claimed they have revisited their risk assessments in relation to airborne particles other than Covid as a result of the pandemic.
“It will be interesting to see if the results from the current inspection programme compare favourably with visits carried out in the first quarter of 2020 before Covid had really hit,” comments Chris. “The last 18 months have been extremely difficult for everyone so we should take the positives where we can and if that means that internal air quality has moved up the agenda in our industry then that can only be a good thing.”
SHEP is running another webinar, which will be hosted by BESA, on controlling exposure to metalworking fluid and welding fume on 22nd July following the success of previous in person and online events – details can be found on the Whats’s On page of the SHEP website.
Find out more about SHEP, its members and forthcoming events by visiting www.shepuk.co.uk.