Metalworking Dust Collection

Reducing the Risk of Metalworking Dust Exposure

Few manufacturing processes are more dangerous to workers than metalworking. From grinding to laser cutting, the fine particulates emitted from these processes have far-reaching effects. Workers’ health is the most worrisome concern, but these dusts put a company’s health at risk, as well. Failure to comply with regulations surrounding these dusts can lead to serious fines and other damages. Dusts can limit productivity and equipment life spans, as well.

Improving air quality should be a major priority for manufacturers. Metallic dusts, in particular, need special attention, since many of them are toxic and carry extra dangers. Regulatory standards for these dusts are strict—and some have recently gotten stricter—so there is no room for complacency. Fortunately, there are many ways to filter this dust out of the air and to return clean, climate-controlled air back to your facility.

Exposure Risks for Metalworking Dust

Because most metallic dusts are toxic when inhaled, they are more dangerous than most other dusts. This is why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued specific regulations for many different metallic dusts. Workers exposed to these dusts face a wide variety of risks, from nuisance effects to death.

Here are a few examples from OSHA’s list of published standards. These are expressed as Permissible Exposure Limits (PEL’s), which are measured and averaged over a worker’s 8-hour shift.

  • Cadmium: 0.005 mg/m3
  • Beryllium: 0.0002 mg/m
  • Hexavalent chromium: 0.005 mg/m3
  • Lead: 0.05 mg/m3
  • Nickel: 1.0 mg/m3
  • Manganese: 5.0 mg/m
  • Cobalt: 0.1 mg/m
  • Aluminum: 15 mg/m

Health risks vary from substance to substance, but many risks are severe. Exposure to cadmium, for example, is associated with kidney damage and increased risk of lung and prostate cancer. Hexavalent chromium is a known carcinogen, as well, and has been associated with cancer deaths. Other substances might not lead to death but are still very harmful; for example, exposure to manganese is linked with a condition called manganism. This disorder carries symptoms similar to Parkinson’s Disease. Exposure to lead has well known negative neurological effects.

Fires and explosions are another serious risk of certain metallic dusts. When combustible dusts accumulate in an enclosed space, such as inside a dust collector, they are susceptible to explosion. If this dust mixes in the right concentration with air and encounters an ignition source, it could explode. As workers in the field know, ignition sources are abundant in metalworking shops, so this possibility is very real and very dangerous. Dust explosions injure or kill many workers, ever year.

Sources of Metalworking Dust and Why They Matter

Grinding, polishing, cutting, . . . laser cutting—they can all potentially produce metalworking dust. Understanding how each process is different will help an employer address the dusts emitted. Without knowing exactly what kind of metallic dust is produced, it is difficult or impossible to adequately address the dust; OSHA has a long list of regulated substances, after all—the agency has issued around 500 PEL’s—and each one requires specific compliance. Professional services exist to perform comprehensive chemical testing of the air quality in one’s facility. This knowledge is indispensable in properly and efficiently controlling dust and protecting workers.

Grinding, blasting, and polishing metallic surfaces produces a complex mix of dust. Not only must an employer know the content of the substrate, but also the various coatings and films that might be on the object. In these metalworking processes, it must be assumed that all of those substances will become airborne as fine particulates. Without an active effort to mitigate that dust, workers in the immediate—and general—area will be exposed.

Metal cutting, or today’s advanced processes of laser or plasma cutting, produce dangerous dusts, as well. In the case of a process like laser cutting, the particulates produced are exceptionally fine. This is due to the high temperatures involved. The finer the particulate, the more easily it is inhaled into the lungs and absorbed by the body. A metalworking facility using these processes needs to be vigilant in controlling its air quality. These processes need powerful air filtration equipment in order to protect workers and keep a facility clean.

Regulations for Metalworking Dust

Not only are OSHA regulations for metallic dusts often strict, many of them are in flux. For example, in January, 2017, OSHA released a new standard for beryllium that is dramatically lower than previous limits. Metalworking facilities that engage with beryllium will have no choice but to respond to this new rule. Likewise, many in industry are aware of chatter surrounding the regulatory limits on manganese. Many think a strengthening of the standard is in the near future. As most manufacturers know, keeping track of existing regulations and being prepared for changes is a crucial part of business operations, today.

Failure to meet OSHA standards leaves a business vulnerable to multiple risks. Violations can lead to serious fines, even adding up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Citations can also be legal liabilities, as well, opening a company up to lawsuits. News stories of these citations can lead to reputational harm, damaging a company’s name with customers and even future job recruits.

Perhaps the best reason for a company to improve air quality is to ensure the health and productivity of its workers. OSHA regulations are based on years or decades of medical science. Harmful substances in the workplace, such as metalworking dusts, are a clear and present risk to workers where air quality has not been controlled. It has also been demonstrated that poor air quality hurts productivity, as well.

Solutions for Metalworking Dust

Metalworking dust is dangerous, and RoboVent has almost three decades of experience mitigating it. For a simple operation such as a grinding station or a cutting table, RoboVent has a variety of portable dust collectors, such as those in its VentBoss series. These collectors can be outfitted with fume arms or hoods, allowing dusts to be captured at their source, before any workers or nearby staff are affected.

RoboVent also designs and manufactures facility-wide solutions for collecting dust. Our Fusion Series of collectors offers powerful, efficient units that are easy to set up and even easier to maintain. If your operation is complex—perhaps in layout, substances produced, or both—RoboVent’s VentMapping process lets our engineers use computer modeling to propose a custom solution. VentMapping produces the most effective solution at the most optimal price.

For laser cutting applications, RoboVent has created the Plaser Series of collectors, designed specifically for the process. RoboVent has deployed over 1,000 Plaser units, which for years have demonstrated the efficacy of our filtration technology. The collectors draw metallic dusts and fumes produced in laser cutting through our proprietary filters with a powerful, consistent airflow. Workers in the facility are protected, and the laser beam remains uninterrupted by dust and fumes.

Whether your metalworking operation is old or new, simple or cutting-edge, RoboVent understands your air quality needs. Maintaining clean air isn’t just a legal requirement, it’s an important investment in your productivity and your workers’ health. RoboVent has a solution for every application, whether it’s an off-the-shelf unit or a fully customized dust collector.