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Safety and Fume Management

By: Kevin Watson MSc - Updated: 7 May 2010 | comments*Discuss
Fumes Health Workplace Metal Solder Flux

A number of industries use processes that generate fumes. At best, these fumes may be irritating; at worst, they can cause serious and even fatal diseases.

Employers must therefore manage fumes safely. They should be aware of the Hazardous Nature of Fumes, and have systems in place to ensure any risks to health are minimal.

Metal and Casting Industry

Metal and casting fumes can pose an extreme risk to health. Businesses that use molten metal must abide by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH).

In any metal and casting foundry there must be ventilation. Fumes are hot and tend to rise, so there should be suitable vents and extraction fans in ceilings and high on walls.

In addition, a foundry should have low-level vents. These help to ensure a good flow of air through the building.

In some circumstances foundry workers may also need PPE (personal protective equipment).

Solder Fumes

One of the major causes of occupational asthma in the UK is rosin-based solder flux.

Rosin is a resin-like substance that comes from pine trees. Although it’s a natural product, it contains various potentially harmful acids.

Early symptoms of a health problem from rosin-based solder flux are stinging, watery eyes; a sore throat; breathing problems; coughing; and a blocked or runny nose.

HSE (Health and Safety Executive) research has shown there is no safe level of exposure to the fumes of rosin-based solder flux. Furthermore, if a workplace has no effective controls in place, the fumes drift and soon fill a room.

A workplace should have extraction fans and other forms of suitable ventilation. PPE such as masks can also help.

Employers should also consider alternatives types of flux that don’t use rosin. And for some jobs, mechanical joints may be a useful substitute.

Stainless Steel Welding

An HSE report has found there may be a widespread failure to manage exposure to stainless steel welding fumes correctly. The companies involved therefore fail to meet COSHH guidelines.

This failure doesn’t necessarily mean that workers are at risk. In fact, the HSE report suggests that violations of exposure limits on test sites were uncommon. But the fumes from stainless steel welding can contain hexavalent chromium and nickel. If inhaled, these may cause asthma, cancer and lung disease.

Employers should follow COSHH recommendations. These include a proper use of an LEV (local exhaust ventilation) hood. These are moveable hoods that enclose and extract fumes. Among some welding companies there is an incorrect belief that an LEV impairs the effectiveness of a stainless steel weld.

Fume Cupboards

Fume cupboards are common in the pharmaceutical industry. The cupboards manage fumes safely, but many are uncomfortable for workers to use and pose a threat to health.

Some cupboards are difficult to reach, for example. Others are too low. And some have badly-positioned control panels that block the operator’s view.

When choosing a fume cupboard, it’s wise to consider ergonomics. Questions to ask include:

  • Can an operator sit comfortably when using the cupboard?
  • Does the cupboard have adjustable legs?
  • Is there a foot platform?
  • Are the controls in a suitable position?

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