Keeping up with changing air quality regulations has become a major responsibility for manufacturers. While plant managers usually understand the dangers of airborne contaminants, translating that shop-floor knowledge into a strategy for legal compliance is something different. And when those legal rules change, the challenge can become particularly acute.
An important step in staying ahead of regulations is to establish a baseline of your air quality. This is done through an air quality audit, preferably conducted by a certified industrial hygienist. These professionals set up monitors throughout your facility to measure air quality. Using their report, you can then develop a strategy for meeting or surpassing the current regulations. Most likely, of course, you will already be complying with many or all OSHA regulations. Even a fully compliant facility, however, could benefit from an air quality audit. Besides serving as a third-party documentation of your air quality, the audit presents the opportunity to plan for the future—a future in which regulations could change.
There are many examples of air quality regulations changing and of manufacturers being caught by surprise. A recent rule change from OSHA involving silica dust is expected to force many manufacturers to take new actions to ensure compliance. The new silica rules are significantly more stringent than previous regulations. Mounting scientific evidence had shown that the previous limits on silica dust were not keeping workers safe. OSHA estimates that the new rule could prevent 600 deaths and 900 new cases of silicosis each year. The new rule forces manufacturers to cut PEL’s by half. In addition, the rule lists requirements for assessing and monitoring exposure, protecting employees, mitigating dust, keeping records and communicating with employees. Many manufacturers are scrambling to adapt.
To avoid being caught in such a situation, manufacturers can take action today to improve their air quality. By implementing a comprehensive dust or weld fume collection system, they can meet or surpass today’s standards. If exposure limits become more strict in the future, they will either already be in compliance or will be much better prepared to marginally improve their air quality to come into compliance.