Air pollution is a major source of ill-health and death worldwide. With the United Kingdom’s Clean Air Day approaching on 16 June, it is a good opportunity to discuss the issue.
In 2019, pollution was responsible for approximately 9 million premature deaths worldwide. Air pollution (both household and ambient air pollution) remains responsible for the greatest number of deaths, causing 6-7 million deaths in 2019.
Toxic occupational hazards, excluding workplace fatalities due to safety hazards, were responsible for 870,000 deaths in the same year. An example of these is welding fumes, especially when welding nickel or chromium metals.
Therefore, occupational toxic emissions from organisations are a significant to the health and lives of not only workers, but nearby workplaces and residential areas. But what makes industries pollute their own local environment and others nearby?
- Lack of legislation and standard practices
- Lack of effective organisational policies and processes
- Using old and outdated technology
- Lack of internal control of emissions
So, what can OSH professionals do to control this hazard?
- Call to action for improved national regulation on workplace pollution
Many countries have industry forums that allow organisation representatives to work with regulators to improve legislation and guidance for managing emissions and pollution from workplaces.
- Understand the nature of your organisation’s activities and implementing/modifying processes to manage emissions
Understanding how processes work in the organisation can help identify chemical hazards that could be emitted and look at ways to achieve the same result, but with less emissions. Substituting harmful chemicals for less harmful ones, for example.
- Reduce emissions at source, by use of newer technology
Newer equipment that is built to current standards, such as the European standard EN 1093 Safety of machinery — Evaluation of the emission of airborne hazardous substances, can reduce emissions at source.
- Use of ventilation and filtered extraction to control emissions
Finally, using local exhaust ventilation (LEV) to remove harmful emissions from the workplace environment and filter the exhaust emissions to prevent environmental contamination. Using general ventilation to dilute harmful emissions in the workplace can also be implemented.
An example of good practice for LEV use is the welding fume selector tool, promoted by the British Occupational Hygiene Society’s Breathe Freely Campaign. This allows organisations to properly identify the right type of extraction for a particular welding task.
Time for action
Workplace emissions and air pollution can be effectively controlled by organisations and reduce ill-health and deaths, not only in workers, but also people in the wider environment. There are many different controls that can be used to mitigate the hazards from emissions and pollution, whether it be at source, modifying the organisation’s processes, or using LEV to extract emissions.