The engineering controls to reduce employee exposure to Hexavalent Chromium will depend on the type of application and environment in which the work is being performed. Remember, it is better to err on the side of caution when dealing with employee health and safety. Hexavalent Chromium is a known human carcinogen via inhalation, and is cited for increased risk of lung cancer. Therefore it essential that exposed, or potentially exposed employees utilize respirators, and are located in rooms that are very well ventilated at a minimum. Areas that do not have sound ventilation or clean air circulation need to utilize fume extraction equipment that contains a certified HEPA filter (up to 99.97% on particles .3 microns and larger). There are many companies that offer portable fume extraction systems that are well aware of the issues surrounding the OSHA regulation on Hex Chrome. The optimal protection will come from a source capture fume extractor. These machines will draw the contaminated air away from the point of origin not allowing the operator to breath in the dirty air at all. OSHA has determined that the point of source exhaust systems that capture particulate at the source and remove it are generally preferred to dilution ventilation because it creates a cleaner working environment. Even with fume extractors employees should still be diligent and consider using a personal respirator as a secondary control.
Inhalation should not be the only safety concern when dealing with Hexavalent Chromium. It has been citied through many cases that exposure from water can cause chronic illness. Although exposure to this may not be as prevalent in industry, it is important for employers and employees to be aware potential exposure. The current content level of Hexavalent Chromium in water levels is 0.10 ppm set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. If potential water sources are contaminated with Hexavalent Chromium proper handling equipment such as waterproof Neoprene gloves, eye protection, and proper safety clothing should be utilized. If any airborne contaminants are present a HEPA filtered respirator should be employed. This equipment is readily available at most safety supply stores.
It is important to implement several engineering controls to ensure a safe working environment for employees especially when dealing with a known human carcinogen such as Hexavalent Chromium. These controls will consist of isolation, substitution, ventilation, and work practices. A safety program should be stringent and consider worst case scenarios. Ask yourself, does my safety program not only meet, but exceed OSHA regulations? Often times just reaching the minimum is not enough. It is important to have multiple safety controls, and educate and train employees on the importance and seriousness of working with harmful substances.
If you are not sure if a problem exists at your facility it is a good idea to have testing conducted to determine the levels of Hexavalent Chromium. The best method for Hexavalent Chromium, particulate is to utilize sampling pumps, and take multiple readings at the operators breathing zone, the ambient concentration, and the exposure at the point of contact. The results should be analyzed by a professional laboratory. You may want to consult with a certified industrial hygienist to determine compliance. Often times, it can be more expensive to ignore the problem then to instill a good safety program that encompasses multiple engineering controls.
For more information on safety guidance or specific standards read the OSHA guidelines on compliance OSHA Small Entity Compliance Guide for the Hexavalent Chromium Standards, page 9, OSHA 3320-10N 2006).
Source capture utilizing a
welding fume extractor & HEPA Filter