According to the HSE, respiratory diseases caused or made worse by work are a significant occupational health issue in the UK. Every year, around 12,000 lung disease deaths are estimated to be linked to past exposures at work and around 18,000 new cases of breathing or lung problems caused or made worse by work are reported.
Exposure to respiratory hazards at work can lead to a range of respiratory diseases, including occupational asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer. These diseases can cause significant disability and can be life-threatening in some cases.
Overall, it is estimated that millions of workers in the UK are exposed to respiratory hazards at work each year. The HSE recommends that employers take steps to identify and assess the risks of respiratory hazards in the workplace and implement appropriate control measures to eliminate or reduce the risks to a safe level. Control measures may include elimination or substitution of hazardous substances, engineering controls such as ventilation or enclosure of processes, administrative controls such as limiting exposure times and the use of PPE, such as respirators.
To protect workers from respiratory conditions, several measures can be taken, including:
Risk assessment: Employers should conduct a risk assessment to identify the potential hazards that could cause respiratory conditions.
Control measures: Control measures should be put in place to eliminate or reduce exposure to respiratory hazards. These could include the use of ventilation systems, the substitution of hazardous substances with less harmful ones, and the implementation of safe working procedures.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Employers should provide suitable PPE, such as respirators, masks and other protective clothing, to workers who may be exposed to respiratory hazards.
Training and education: Workers should be trained on the risks associated with respiratory hazards, the use of PPE and other relevant health and safety information.
Health monitoring: Regular health monitoring of workers who are exposed to respiratory hazards should be carried out to identify any potential health effects.
Regular review and updates: Control measures and procedures should be reviewed regularly and updated as necessary to ensure their effectiveness.
There are several industries where workers are at increased risk of exposure to respiratory hazards. The most common industries where workers are exposed to respiratory hazards include:
Construction: Workers in the construction industry are often exposed to dust, which can contain hazardous substances such as silica, asbestos and wood dust. Exposure to these substances can cause or exacerbate respiratory diseases, such as occupational asthma, silicosis and lung cancer.
Agriculture: Workers in the agriculture industry are exposed to dust, pesticides and other chemicals that can cause or exacerbate respiratory diseases. Exposure to organic dust, such as from hay, grain and animal feed, can cause a condition known as farmer’s lung.
Manufacturing: Workers in manufacturing industries may be exposed to a range of respiratory hazards, including dust, fumes and chemicals. Welding, metalworking and painting are examples of manufacturing processes that can generate hazardous fumes.
The Role of PPE
In many instances, risks cannot be controlled by engineering controls alone and business’s need to provide their staff with high quality PPE.
Furthermore, staff should be properly trained to use to use, check and clean their PPE. There should be systems in place to make sure that disposable respirators are changed regularly, the filters on reusable RPE respirators are changed in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations and the equipment is stored in a clean, dust-free place. Staff should also be empowered to report any problems, such as defective, old or badly fitting PPE, to their supervisor.
When choosing respiratory PPE, it is very important to remember not only to use masks that have a high filtration efficiency, such as FFP3s, but also to make sure that the masks fit properly.
Fit testing for FFP3 masks is the process of checking the seal between the mask and the wearer’s face to ensure that the mask is properly fitted and able to provide effective protection against airborne particles. The purpose of fit testing is to identify any gaps or leaks between the mask and the face that could allow dust to enter the wearer’s respiratory system.
It is important to note that fit testing should be performed by a trained professional and that the process may need to be repeated if there are changes to the wearer’s face, such as weight loss or gain, or if the mask model or size is changed. Regular fit testing is also recommended to ensure that the FFP3 mask continues to provide adequate protection over time.
Contact your local Service Centre to find out more!