HSE launches proactive inspection programme for occupational asthmagens and carcinogens in manufacturing industries

November 5, 2015

Exposure to harmful substances such as respiratory sensitisers and/or carcinogens can cause chronic and life-changing medical condition such as occupational asthma and occupational cancer. According to the HSE, around 13 000 deaths each year from occupational lung disease and cancer are caused by past exposure to harmful substances.

Whilst companies have for a long time had the legal obligation to ensure that exposures to harmful substances are reduced to as low a level as is reasonably practicable (ALARP), this is the first time as far as we are aware that the HSE put together such detailed guidance on how inspectors should choose and target a group of companies to check compliance.

So what does this mean in practice?

By encouraging greater proactivity in targeting companies in sectors such as food, plastics and woodworking it is likely that we will start to see more and more fines and even prison sentences being given out to companies who ignore their responsibilities to ensure their workers’ health.

The guidance is also very clear that just because there is an extraction system in place, this is not enough. That system must be working and used properly, complete with a user manual and maintenance log book and inspected at the very least every 14 months. This may mean that some companies get a shock, as even if they have an extraction system in place they could be in trouble if that system is not operating as it should or maintained as it should be.

Target industries

The following industries will be targeted under this plan:

  • food manufacturing (and in particular the HSE has identified bakeries as a specific target)
  • plastics
  • woodworking
  • metal fabricators
  • surface engineering
  • molten metals
  • shipbuilding and boat building

While companies of all sizes may be targeted, the HSE has suggested SME’s should be prioritised as standards are often lower.

Is your company at risk?

If your system was designed and installed by Vent-Tech and you have taken out one of our servicing contracts then you can have peace of mind that should the HSE knock on your door, then you will be covered (unless you are failing to use the equipment and check it as we will have trained you).

If not, then the following checklist will help you to understand whether you are at any risk:

  1. Have you done a risk assessment about potential asthmagens and carcinogens in the workplace?  If you have not and you’re in one of the industries above, we would really recommend you do so immediately
  2. Have you introduced proper control measures including extraction and/or respiratory protective equipment (RPE), to protect employees from exposure to asthmagens and/or carcinogens?
  3. Have your employees been trained how to use the equipment provided above correctly?
  4. Was any LEV system designed and installed by a reputable company by engineers with the appropriate qualifications (i.e. P601, P602, P603, P604)?
  5. Do you have your user manual and properly updated maintenance logbook?
  6. Are your LEV systems inspected at least every 14 months by a competent person – and have any problems been rectified?
  7. Is all respiratory protective equipment (RPE) appropriate, maintained and regularly checked?
  8. Are the systems installed reducing exposure to well below the ‘WEL’ level.

Clarity re WEL

The HSE has also made it clear here that systems that meet the appropriate WEL are not enough – in their words:

‘when assessing compliance …. in all but exceptional circumstances, exposure will be reduced below the WEL. In most cases simply achieving the WEL should not be deemed ‘adequate’ control.’

Next Steps

If you are in any doubt about any of the above we would suggest you contact us here at Vent-Tech to discuss what measures you need to take to ensure that you are not going to fall foul of an HSE inspection. We are always happy to take your call – even if it is just to reassure you that you have the appropriate measures in place – or if not to recommend how you should go about it.

We can be reached on 0117 971 2163 or by emailing here