The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has recently completed an open consultation on the implementation of new and revised Workplace Exposure Limits (WELs) for 31 hazardous substances. The new limits will look to better protect workers from the potential ill-health effects of working with the substances and, were put into effect in August 2018, becoming immediately legally binding.
Now that the 31 substances and their proposed new exposure limits are known, Catherine Hare, Alcumus Sypol’s Monitoring Services Operations Manager, has provided practical advice on how you can effectively adhere to these new or revised WELs to ensure you comply with legislation and keep your people safe from the risks of exposure.
Five practical steps to reduce the risk of ill health
To ensure that exposure limits aren’t exceeded, workplace monitoring should be conducted by a monitoring services expert or occupational hygienist. Air monitoring will assess levels of exposure via inhalation of these substances and can be used to allow quantitative assessment of the levels your staff are experiencing and establish a baseline.
If it is found that your workers are exposed to a substance approaching or above the WEL then control measures will need to be implemented to suitably keep your workers safe from the risks that the substance poses to their health. In fact, for some substances such as carcinogens, mutagens, reprotoxins and respiratory sensitisers, there is a duty on employers to ensure that exposure is at a level which is as low as reasonably practicable and, in any case, below the WEL.
Here are the most effective hazard controls:
Following the COSHH hierarchy of control, the first and most effective control method to be considered is that of elimination. Can the work be completed without using the hazardous substance? If yes, then this control method should be implemented ahead of any other as it completely removes the hazard and risk to employees.
As substances often hold properties unique to a process, elimination is not always possible. When this is the case, the second most effective control method to be considered is that of substitution. This involves identifying a hazard-free or less hazardous substance to perform the relevant task.
Another form of substitution is to not replace the substance completely but substitute the process in which the original substance is used, so it is used less dangerously or released in a less hazardous form. Where the substitute substance or method still carries a hazard, regular monitoring will still be required to ensure that workers aren’t being put at risk and that a new hazard is not being unwillingly created.
3. Engineering controls
The next most effective control measure is engineering controls. This involves making physical changes to the workplace that enables the hazardous substance to be removed at source before workers encounter it. Engineering controls avoid the need to rely on worker behaviour and/or PPE and examples include local exhaust ventilation (LEV) systems such as fume hoods, glove boxes or biosafety cabinets.