Clean Air and Compliance
Regulating harmful dusts, weld fumes and other airborne particulates in the workplace is the job of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This agency began its work in 1971 with a mission to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.” Today, OSHA is the primary agency regulating air quality in manufacturing facilities.
OSHA's authority comes out of its “General Duty Clause.” It reads: “Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” The legal code is long (and ever growing) and includes many specific standards for air quality, most of which are contained in Standard 29 CFR Part 1910 Subpart Z.
OSHA sets “permissible exposure limits” (PEL's) for workers in facilities where airborne contaminants are a concern. These limits set an amount of a substance a worker can be exposed to over the course of an 8-hour shift (a time-weighted average, or TAV). For example, here is a list of a few PEL's:
- Cadmium: 0.005 mg/m3
- Hexavalent chromium: 0.005 mg/m3
- Lead: 0.05 mg/m3
- Nickel: 1.0 mg/m3
- Manganese: 5.0 mg/m3
If a manufacturer needs to improve its air quality to meet a specific OSHA regulation, there are several steps available. First, you would study your engineering processes to see if you might remove an obvious source of the contaminant. This would be considered the “low-hanging fruit.” For example, a residue on weld surfaces contributes greatly to weld fumes and can often be easily removed.
Another way to improve air quality in order to meet OSHA regulations is to implement a dust or weld capture solution. Most of this equipment is categorized in two ways: source capture and ambient capture. Source capture allows you to control localized fume and dusts and includes equipment such as fume arms, hoods and fume guns. Ambient capture equipment is installed throughout your building and filters or exhausts air from the entire facility. These are ducted systems or large, standalone pieces of equipment that, optimally, create a flow within a building to filter the air as efficiently as possible.
Because OSHA standards are statutory regulations, maintaining clean air is mandatory. Failure to comply with these regulations can lead to serious fines. For example, in 2014, a manufacturer was forced to pay a $342,000 fine for 38 violations that exposed workers to hexavalent chromium. Fortunately, there are many other good reasons to improve air quality beyond OSHA compliance.