Since the COVID pandemic there has been huge emphasis on remote working, mental health and a workplace which is ‘safe’ from COVID risk and preventing any workplace hazards.
As an Occupational Hygienist, I have encountered some disturbing omissions from this conversation around a ‘healthy workplace’. Some workplace hazards can make people really quite ill, which really needs attention from the Facilities Management industry.
Wood Dust at a Secondary School
Towards the end of 2019 I did a piece of work for a very ordinary secondary school to identify any workplace hazards. The design technology teacher was new to this position. Of the previous two DT teachers, one had become poorly and taken early retirement and the other had been diagnosed with chronic asthmas that was triggered be even the tiniest bits of wood dust.
Since wood dust is very much part of the design technology workplace within a school, he simply couldn’t return to work and needed to find alternative employment.
The current DT teacher happened to be familiar with the workplace hazards or general hazards of wood dust and used high quality respiratory protection (RPE) when cutting and sanding. However, the school facilities management company refused to believe that wood dust was making the DT teachers so ill that he was forced to purchase his own respiratory protection at a cost of several hundred pounds.
It turned out this teacher also took early retirement and we cannot say whether the school installed the necessary dust extraction systems to protect the staff even after the advice given. Protection of the children’s health being another matter entirely.
Diesel Engine Emissions in Fire Stations
During 2020 I helped run a project where I got to go round a number of fire stations across the UK and complete some air monitoring. This work focused on the dangers of diesel engine emissions (DEE’s), which can be a significant health hazard when diesel engines idle indoors.
Perhaps ‘health hazard’ is something of an understatement, long term exposure can cause lung cancer and COPD.
The work revealed a number of COSHH violations. My reports included specific procedural and engineering recommendations on how to fix the issues found. In this case the facilities management company took employee health seriously and things improved quickly. However, there are many more vulnerable workers exposed to diesel fumes. This could be in car garages, ferry companies and bus maintenance depots – to name a few.
Silica Dust from Construction and Renovation
Like wood, stone is a natural substance and we have all heard the advertising message that natural means ‘safe’. But that is simply not true.
Cutting and grinding natural stone produces very fine silica dust, known as respirable crystalline silica (RCS). When inhaled, these particles can cause as much damage as asbestos. Scarring deep inside the lungs which can result in Silicosis, a permanent lung condition for which there is no cure.
The tragic consequences of RCS exposure is well known in the stone quarries of developing countries, however the UK is not immune.
Horrific RCS exposure is a fact of life for construction workers who cut concrete, tiles or work surfaces that contain natural stone. The health consequences are so serious that the HSE is now insisting on local extraction ventilation, LEV, where workers might be vulnerable to RCS.
R&B Industrial have qualified Occupational Hygienists and the facilities to carry out COSHH risk analysis/risk assessments. This will be professional structured and recorded according to the requirements of the HSE. Most likely, the risk analysis will conclude that the workplace is safe and the proper precautions are already in place. If the risk is uncertain, we may need to do some air monitoring to check exposure and if needed, we can make specific engineering recommendations.
We have a team of highly skilled design and installation teams to maintain these controls needed to meet health and safety requirements.