Paint and solvent fumes pose a high risk to workers in paint manufacturing factories and also in any workshop where paints are used and applied to an end product.
The Health and Safety Executive estimate that 8% of the working population regularly use organic solvents. The largest end user is the coatings industry, where solvents are used to improve the quality and durability of paints and varnishes.
In order to create a safe working environment and protect operators’ health, it is essential to capture and extract these pollutants in an efficient way. As fumes are invisible it is also very important that these LEV systems are rigorously tested and checked regularly to ensure they are working effectively.
What are the dangers of working with Solvents?
Solvents and paint fumes can easily enter the body by breathing the vapours in. But they can also be absorbed by contact with the skin either directly or through solvent contaminated work clothes.
Short Term Effects
Different solvents can affect your health in different ways. Some of the short-term effects are irritation of eyes, lungs and skin causing headaches, nausea and dizziness. When you are exposed to solvents, your co-ordination may become impaired, which in itself might increase the chance of an accident. Very high exposure to large concentrations of solvent vapours can result in unconsciousness and even death.
Long Term Effects
The long term effects of consistent daily exposure to solvents can be varied and again will depend on the level of exposure and the type of solvent. The difficulty of defining this comes with the fact that most workers who are exposed to fumes over many years will have been exposed to a mixture of solvents.
However, studies show that long term effects can include leukaemia in benzene exposed workers, scleroderma from mixed solvents, and renal cancer in those exposed to chlorinated hydrocarbons. There is also evidence to suggest subtle effects on cognitive function in heavily exposed workers, which include attention, verbal memory, and visuospatial skills (ability to visually perceive objects and the spatial relationships among objects).
What are Safe levels of Exposure?
Workplace Exposure Limits or ‘WELs’ are the UK occupational exposure limits and are the measured concentrations of hazardous substances in the air, averaged over a specified period of time set. WELs are, referred to as a time-weighted average (TWA). Two time periods are used: long-term (8 hours); and short-term (15 minutes). In workplace exposure limits, concentrations of airborne particles are usually measured in mg.m-3 or ppm (parts per million).
An example is Hydrogen chloride has a long term exposure limit of 1 ppm and 2 mg.m-3 and a short term exposure limit of 5 ppm and 8 mg.m-3.
The HSE provide a comprehensive explanation of all WELs here. Due to the complexity of these exposure limits and the importance of measuring risk correctly, testing must be carried out by a COSHH compliant Company.
What are your responsibilities as an employer?
Substances that have been assigned a WEL are subject to the requirements of COSHH. These regulations require employers to prevent or control exposure to hazardous substances. In the case of workplaces or factories where solvents are used the following must be carried out:
- Assess the risks to health from use of solvents and the precautions necessary to protect it.
- Introduce measures to prevent workers from being exposed to solvents which could be wearable equipment or an LEV system.
- Ensure that control measures are used, equipment is properly maintained and checked and procedures are observed.
- Where necessary, monitor your exposure and carry out appropriate health surveillances
- Inform your workers about the risks and the precautions necessary to protect their health.
- Train workers in the use of control measures and any protective equipment which is required.
LEV Systems for Fume Extraction and Control
It is very important to engage with an expert LEV company who can ensure that you get the right systems to protect your workers. Here at Vent-Tech, we have come across many situations where an inadequate LEV system has been installed at great cost but is not effective. It is far better to get it right the first time and ensure compliance with COSHH regulations.
The nature, volume and toxicity of the solvents in your workplace will define what safety measures and systems you will need. For example working in confined spaces, the concentration of hazardous particles will be greatly increased. Extraction arms, fume cabinets and downdraught benches are just some examples of systems that can be used for extracting solvents.
Once your LEV systems are operational, it is very important that they are regularly tested as LEV COSHH Testing is a legal requirement in the UK.
Can we help?
Here at Vent-Tech, we have decades of experience with the design, installation and testing of all LEV systems across all industries and sectors. Our expert team will guide you every step of the way to make your business compliant, keep your workers safe now and in the future. Call now on 0117 964 7945 for further information on all of our LEV services.