Why what you breathe in is fundamental to your health

January 18, 2016

Last Saturday (16th January) our Managing Director Adrian Sims was interviewed by Dr Phil Hammond about occupational ill health on his Saturday morning radio show. They discussed the seemingly innocuous dusts that can make you ill if you are exposed to them in the workplace, and how to recognise if you might be in that situation.

To listen in please go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03dpy6x – the interview can be found between 01:18:30 and 01:27:30 on the player.

Are you paying the price for your company’s failure to act?

According to the HSE, occupational ill health is costing the UK economy £741 million per year. But who’s paying the price?

Further investigation shows that half of this is being borne by the individual who is being made ill in the first place – due to both loss of earnings and other costs associated with being unwell.

A further quarter of the cost falls on the government and the final quarter on the employer who potentially caused the problem in the first place.

So if you think you may be at risk of exposure to hazardous substances then it can benefit both you and the company you work for if you bring it to their attention.

How to recognise if you’re at risk

Adrian and Phil discussed that the dangers related to working with asbestos are well known, but that there are many other substances which can cause ill health or even death that are far less well known both among individuals and employers.

Examples of products where exposure to them can cause serious health issues include:

  • Flour
  • Paint fumes
  • Diesel fumes
  • Wood dust
  • Stone dust

If you work with any of these substances then you could be at risk. If you can see evidence of these products on surfaces and machinery (perhaps when there is a beam of sunlight) then you are at definite risk and should be demanding that your employer gets your work area properly tested.

What steps should employers be taking to mitigate risk?

  1. The best protection of all is to change the process if at all possible so the harmful substance is not emitted in the first place
  2. If a change of process is not feasible, then companies need to look at engineering controls. This will require working with a qualified experienced ventilation company such as Vent-Tech who can design a system to safely remove harmful substances from the environment.
  3. The third option offering the least effective protection is personal protective equipment such as masks – the problem being that they are not as reliable or as effective as either changing the process or adding engineering controls.

If you are working with the products mentioned above and there are no engineering controls, the chances are that your health is at risk even if you have personal protective equipment such as masks.

The employer will benefit too from introducing the right controls

Too often companies see the introduction of properly engineered ventilation system as a cost to the company with no real benefits.

This is patently not true – the company benefits in a number of ways from improving the air their employees breathe:

  • Less illness leading to lower costs of sick pay, recruitment etc
  • A cleaner, safer factory aids staff retention
  • A happier healthier workforce generally leads to better productivity

Next Steps

If you think that you may be being exposed to harmful dusts and fumes don’t ignore it – as your health could be being compromised right now. Talk to your employer about getting the air tested by an occupational hygenist, or if there is a clear issue ask them to speak to a reputable ventilation company such as Vent-Tech. If you are not sure if you are at risk or not, then give us a call.  We may be able to put your mind at rest – or failing that help you with what to do next.