Workplace Regulations: Clean air systems

Air quality in the workplace must abide by a series of strict, well-defined standards enforced by OSHA. These standards exist to ensure a safe working environment for employees in facilities where harmful fumes and particles create potential health risks. Employers who don’t abide by these regulations are breaking the law, and run the risk of being fined or sued.

OSHA has a responsibility to ensure that all workplaces are free of risks to employees that could potentially cause death or illness. In manufacturing facilities, these risks most often come from the fumes that are produced when welding metals. These weld fumes can cause serious health risks, such as prolonged, flu-like illness, and can even cause cancer if not properly regulated and controlled.

To prevent workers contracting serious illnesses such as these, OSHA has defined set amounts of fumes, called permissible exposure limits (PELs) that are acceptable in a workplace. Limits on metals such as cadmium, hexavalent chromium, lead, nickel, and manganese ensure that workers won’t contract illness from toxic fumes from these metals. The permissible amount of toxins in the air is constantly getting lower as well, and employers should keep in mind that their acceptable levels of toxins today may not be acceptable tomorrow.

If a facility finds that its emissions are exceeding OSHA regulations, there are several steps it can take to reduce fumes. The problem may be as simple as a poor manufacturing process, which only requires changes to that process to fix. It may be something as simple as a toxic weld surface, which can be easily switched out.

However, the problem is often more complicated than that and requires a dedicated solution. A capture system is usually utilized in these situations to collect toxic particles and fumes before workers breathe them in. These systems can use source capture, which manages local fumes in a specific area, and ambient capture, which is installed throughout the entire manufacturing facility and create an airflow within the building which captures and expels dangerous fumes. Which system a facility should install depends on the size and needs of that facility. Which one is more cost-effective depends and should be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Before picking an air filtration solution, a facility should first have its air tested to determine if it needs filtration in the first place and if so, what dangerous particles are in the air. In order to test this, it’s necessary to bring in an experienced third-party industrial hygienist to perform an air audit. This not only produces a credible record of air quality to show inspectors, but it also indicates what areas the facility should improve on should OSHA decide to lower the acceptable toxin limit in the air.

Clean air is an essential element of everyday life and is even more important in the workplace. By staying aware of OSHA rules and hiring inspectors to ensure that air quality is acceptable, manufacturing facilities can foster employee goodwill and keep their workers safe.