Dust, fumes, and other airborne hazards are ubiquitous among some industries. Following regulations that control airborne hazards can seem daunting especially in industries where dust and airborne chemicals are a virtually unavoidable result of their processes. Fortunately, industrial hygiene (IH) sampling (sometimes referred to as occupational hygiene sampling) is an available option to empirically determine if working conditions are safe for employees.
Prior to implementation of an IH sampling investigation, each site must determine if the conditions at its facility warrant such an endeavor. A qualitative exposure assessment (QEA) is a preliminary survey of facility processes, chemicals utilized, and current exposure control methods. This survey is completed through site investigation and review of available literature. Specifically, a QEA entails the collection of safety data sheets (SDSs) for all chemicals processed at the facility, a review of all industrial processes and their hazards, and an investigation of what hazards employees encounter during work. The QEA is a crucial pre-assessment of workplace conditions to determine if the more rigorous, quantitative IH sampling investigation is necessary. For example, grinding of raw materials containing stone can release airborne crystalline silica which may be inhaled by individuals working in the plant. Therefore, utilization of this process may warrant an IH sampling investigation.
If IH sampling is deemed necessary, a trained industrial hygienist should perform an onsite investigation of the employees who are suspected of exposure to elevated levels of each chemical in question. During such an investigation, these employees typically wear devices that sample the air in their breathing zone throughout the course of their duties during an 8-hour workday or other designated length of time. Following field data collection, the results for each chemical are compared with its legally enforceable OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL).
In the event of PEL exceedances, facility managers must take action to reduce worker exposure. These actions may include requiring additional personal protective equipment (PPE), reducing the time that employees are exposed to a particular hazard, modifying ventilation systems, or instituting other engineering controls. Further, employees must be made aware of the results of the IH investigation, the associated exposure hazards, and the practices they can implement to protect themselves in the workplace. It is strongly recommended that an ongoing monitoring program be established to periodically re-evaluate hazard levels to demonstrate compliance with OSHA and protect against worker compensation claims. If unsure how to begin with industrial hygiene investigation, please feel free to contact August Mack for guidance or a full investigation if necessary.
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