Are you concerned that your workforce may be dangerously exposed to hazardous substances?

Or has someone (HSE, Insurer, auditor, employee, trade union, etc.) told you that you need workplace air monitoring (as per COSHH Regulation 10 “Monitoring exposure at the workplace”)?

The next step is usually to find an occupational hygiene consultant. Depending on which consultancy you use, you may get:

  1. Some brief sampling, the test certificates and possibly a short report which would not be accepted by the HSE.
  2. A detailed report meeting all HSE requirements and with a long list of recommendations, but little guidance on how to implement them.

R&B Industrial are different. We aim to offer a comprehensive consultancy, design, installation and testing service,. Findings are presented in concise, detailed reports with clear recommendations, taking account of what is achievable by your business. We can work directly with our sales, projects and testing teams to provide the solutions you need. Our knowledge of related legislation (DSEAR, PUWER, etc.) ensures you won’t simply solve one problem and create another.

What is Workplace Air Monitoring?

Workplace exposure monitoring is often required for compliance with COSHH Regulation 10 (Monitoring exposure at the workplace). It is essential where there is a serious risk to the workers’ health from hazardous substances in workplace air.

Following the workplace exposure survey, we can provide ongoing support and concise reports with guidance on risk management – ensuring all COSHH regulations are adhered to.

What is Personal Air Sampling?

Personal air sampling is used to assess compliance with statutory working exposure limits given in EH40, or alternative exposure limits/targets where appropriate. A small filter, badge or sorbent tube is attached to the worker, typically on their collar, upper chest, or on a headset – depending on the application.

Samples can be ‘passive’ or ‘pumped’:

  • Passive samples are usually only suitable for vapours or gases and rely on diffusion of the hazardous substance at a known rate. They are typically taken using badges or tubes and are best for long-term monitoring. They are quick and easy to set up and are particularly useful for large surveys.
  • Pumped samples use a filter or tube which is connected to a small diaphragm pump. Air is drawn through the pump at a known flow rate and start/stop times are recorded so that the pumped volume can be calculated. Pumped sampling methods exist for most applications. With a few exceptions (such as respirable crystalline silica) they are suitable for short-term as well as long term monitoring.

Both passive and pumped samples must be analysed at an accredited laboratory.

Once results have been received, personal exposures of each worker can be calculated and compared against statutory workplace exposure limits in HSE EH40.

You can read more about sampling methods at HSE G409.

What activities require workplace air monitoring?

Apart from asbestos, which is a specialist area, most workplace illnesses are caused by the following substances:

ActivityHealth effect
Cutting of stone, brickwork and concreteSilicosis, lung cancer
Woodworking activities that release fine dustOccupational asthma, sometimes carcinogenic (see also HSE WIS30)
Handling of flour, grain and similar foodstuffs containing enzymesOccupational asthma (Baker’s lung)
All metal fumes from weldingCarcinogenic (see HSE Bulletin No: STSU1 – 2019)
Use of metal working fluids which can accumulate endotoxinsOccupational asthma
Working with processes that can release Chromium VI, e.g. electroplating, some welding and firing of some ceramics glazesCarcinogenic
Soldering using rosin fluxesOccupational asthma
Working with chemicals containing isocyanates (especially when spraying)Occupational asthma
Activities where biological hazards such as mould spores or bacteria are dispersedOccupational asthma, infectious diseases
Working with harmful solvents such as toluene, dichloromethane, styrene or formaldehydeRange of health effects depending on substance – may be neurotoxins, mutagens, carcinogens, respiratory sensitisers and/or reproductive toxins

If your workplace routinely carries out any of the above activities, you will often need to carry out personal air sampling to demonstrate that staff are protected – unless you can rule out a significant risk by another means such as dust lamps, real-time monitoring or detector tubes/badges. R&B Industrial has experience of monitoring for most of the above situations.

The above table is not exhaustive. Air monitoring may be required wherever the COSHH risk assessment has identified a serious risk to health.

What other types of air monitoring assessment are available?

Dust lamps are narrow-beam torches used to identify dust clouds in the workplace. They can be very useful as a qualitative tool in initial appraisals, and can help identify possible improvements in working practice, or to assess the effectiveness of extraction systems.

Static air sampling uses the same techniques as personal air sampling, however sampling media are left in fixed locations in the work area. Static air samples are useful to:

  • identify background levels of hazardous substances and determine secondary exposure risks
  • assess risks to persons passing through the workplace
  • assess effectiveness of return-to-workplace filtration
  • map the distribution of hazardous substances around the work area

Detector tubes (e.g. Draeger tubes) can be used to gain a rapid reading of exposure to dangerous gases and vapours. A hand pump is used to draw air through the tube for a short period, typically 2 minutes. The concentration of the hazardous substance can be read from its penetration distance along the tube, which causes a colour change. A convenient concentration scale is printed on the side of the tube. Detector tubes are useful for initial appraisals where a highly accurate reading is not needed, or for activities of very short duration where other sampling techniques are unsuitable.

Real time-dust monitors can be used to measure concentrations of fine particulates and aerosols of size 0.3-15 microns. Their response depends on the substance measured and they should not be used in isolation – except in qualitative initial appraisals, or to identify the source of a dust release. They are very useful for measuring relative fluctuations in exposure over time.

Photoionization detectors (PIDs) are commonly used to measure concentrations of hazardous vapours. They cannot distinguish between different substances measured. Sensitivity depends strongly on the substance monitored and a large correction may be required. They are useful for measuring relative fluctuations over time, for qualitative initial appraisals, or when only one substance is present.

Gas sensors are available for some substances, such as carbon monoxide, and can give useful information about exposure patterns.

Grab Samples can be used to gain a snapshot of substance concentration by collecting air in a bag or cylinder. The substances in the air can then be adsorbed in a tube and analysed in the same way as a personal sample.

Skin exposure patches can be used where RPE is used, but a residual risk of exposure exists through clothing or exposed skin.

Bulk/Swab Samples can sometimes be useful where an unknown substance of concern has settled in the work area or caused corrosion. Examination by SEM (scanning electron microscopy) or testing by a range of analytical techniques can yield information about the structure and chemical composition of the substance.

Biological Monitoring is not strictly air monitoring and falls under COSHH Regulation 11 (Health Surveillance). However it can complement an air monitoring survey with further information about how much of a substance has entered the body. It is usually carried out by blood or urine sampling and is appropriate for lead or substances with a ‘BMGV’ (see EH40). For substances where urine sampling is applicable, we can arrange biological monitoring in parallel with an air monitoring survey.

What happens during a Workplace Air Monitoring Assessment?

First we will make sure to be aware of all relevant hazards on your site, checking against our risk assessment, following your induction process and confirming that we are taking the right protective measures. After that, we will walk round to understand your processes, meet your team and confirm the scope of work. For a detailed survey, setup of sampling equipment often takes 30 minutes to an hour.

Monitoring is then carried out according to the appropriate methods, fitting sampling pumps on workers where applicable. We will make sure to take photographs, observe your processes and draw up plans of your work area, checking pump airflows at suitable intervals.. In some cases sampling can last as long as 8 hours, depending on your processes and the sampling methods employed.

For worker comfort, pumps can be stopped during lunch and tea breaks. At the end of the survey any sample media will be carefully packaged, ready for dispatch to a UKAS-accredited test lab on our return to office.

How can we help you comply with COSHH and what recommendations could you expect?

Following the workplace air monitoring assessment, you will be provided with recommendations to improve the working environment and ensure COSHH compliance, such as:

  1. New equipment
  2. Extraction systems
  3. Development of PPE/RPE programmes
  4. Modifications to existing dust and fume extraction systems
  5. Modifications to other equipment
  6. Change of working practices

Our knowledge of other regulations (DSEAR, PUWER, etc) will ensure that proposed control measures do not introduce new risks.

R&B Industrial’s Technical Background

R&B Industrial Ltd provides comprehensive air monitoring reports drawing on British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) and HSE/EN689 guidance. We can also work with our projects team to deliver remedials.

R&B Industrial’s occupational hygiene services are provided by W501-qualified engineers with many years of experience and excellent professional connections. Our services range from simple dust surveys to monitoring of complex organic vapours (such as fragrances) containing hundreds of substances. If you are not sure what monitoring you need, we can carry out detailed COSHH reviews to help you identify the chemical hazards in your workplace. We are actively involved in the Occupational Hygiene community and have presented at BOHS and ILEVE events.

Our Occupational Hygienists

Dr Roger Watson MEng, PhD, MIChemE, AFOH

Dr Roger Watson
DSEAR/Occupational Hygiene Technical Specialist
Tel: 01264 351844 (ext 214)

Roger joined R&B Industrial in 2015 after working in academic research for around 10 years. He has carried out over 50 air monitoring surveys and supervised many more. He is also responsible for DSEAR services at R&B Industrial. His occupational hygiene qualifications include W501, W505 and P601.

Erin McGuigan HNC, AFOH

Occupational Hygienist
Tel: 01264 351844 (ext 213)

Erin joined R&B Industrial in 2023, recently passing her W501 qualification. Pursuing a vocational route, she has extensive prior experience in the environmental, water and health sectors.

Articles About Workplace Air Monitoring

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