An estimated 13,000 deaths each year are linked to past exposure to chemicals or dust when working within an industrial environment, according to a ‘Health and safety at work’ report - that's 35 people a day.
The stats on deaths from occupational lung disease alone show that 12,000 lung disease deaths each year are estimated to be linked to past exposure at work, with 20% of those thought to be linked to exposure to asbestos.
Why this is not higher on the business and political agenda is a question which needs to be raised with new cases of work-related ill health costing the UK £9.7 billion in 2016/17 according to a new report published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The very serious long-term effects of hazardous particles have now been clearly demonstrated and this has thrown a new focus in the Health and Safety sector on the need to take care of employees' health as well as guarding them against immediate injury.
The problems of limited monitoring
While there are many factors to consider when it comes to the occupational health and saftey of employees within industrial sectors, one of the biggest challenges historically has been the limitations of monitoring for hazardous particulates.
The biggest issue facing the industry today is the lack of effective real-time monitoring for these harmful particulates.
Readings would be taken at regular intervals within hazardous areas and then sent off for analysis to identify any harmful toxins or particulates in the air - the obvious problems being the fact that information is received retrospectively, not at the time the exposure is taking place and that exposure of employees at the other times of the day will not be recorded.
While areas may be clear at the time readings are being taken, it is possible that dust exposure may have been higher at other times of the day – such as during peak periods of work.
Monitoring in this way has two major consequences:
- Employers are not getting a full picture of the occupational health and safety risks their employees are being exposed to and leaving them potentially vulnerable to developing health problems later
- Employees have no confidence in the processes being designed to protect them.
Another major area of contention when it comes to monitoring is what type of substances or particulates mines or operations are monitoring for, and the other harmful particles they could be missing.
For instance, many particulate monitors can only be set up to monitor for a single size of particle at a time and are therefore configured to alert employees only when particles of that size are identified within a filter.
This method assumes that operations are aware of the type of particulate their workers could be exposed to but doesn't leave any room for the unpredictable nature of particulates and toxins which can be found within these hazardous areas. The fact that other particulate sizes are not being monitored for will often mean that employee exposure to these particles is going on unnoticed.
Many of these monitors and detectors rely on pump and filter systems which also leaves them exposed to the prospect of malfunction or false readings.
Dust and particulate monitoring equipment is widely used in very hot and humid environments, meaning that substances can easily clog a monitor and stop it working. But because readings are not being taken in real time, this would go unnoticed until it came time to take a reading - which could be several hours after employees have been exposed.
Moving to real-time multi particulate monitoring
The future of monitoring particulates in industrial environments relies on the importance of being able to detect and alert workers to the presence of multiple-sized particulates within an area, in real time.
This is where new technology is helping to take away the risk of unknown exposure to particulates and provide real-time safety monitoring.
New monitors like the Air XD Real-Time Dust Monitor combine lab-grade particulate monitoring in real-time - providing much more accurate and reliable monitoring - with the functionality of a robust device which can survive the harsh environments where it is needed.
The Air XD can collect and communicate data on dust and particulates from 0.35µm – 40µm while allowing for the simultaneous display of two Particulate Matter sizes.
Alarms can be added to the network at set points within an area to monitor and alert when dangerous levels of dust are detected.
The unit has no pumps or filters and therefore can operate continuously, with minimal maintenance even in very challenging environments, providing uninterrupted precision measurements across the whole particulates spectrum.
Having this kind of real-time, and reliable, monitoring has become an absolute necessity within any hazardous environment and there is much more that needs to be done to encourage, or if necessary force, operations to adopt the technology and rigorous monitoring practices that will keep their employees safe - not simply meet the occupational health and safety requirements of an eight-hourly inspection.
Organisations have a responsibility to protect the workforce which is trusting them with their wellbeing and safety in often dangerous environments.
If it ever came to light that they had failed to do so when the technology existed, the consequences could be more than any organisation dares face.
You may be confident that levels of coal dust in the atmosphere are acceptable, but your monitoring device may be completely excluding high levels of silica and other killer particulates, leading to dangerous exposure for your employees. Find out more by downloading our eBook.