What makes a safe working environment?

I have asked several highly qualified Occupational Hygienists, what is a 'safe working environment?' The one answer that I personally agree with and consider the best is, ‘A safe working environment is an area that I consider acceptable for my children to work in’.

For numerous industries, the demands of processes, working practices, and time constraints, can make the task of keeping your work environment safe a challenging one. These may be processes that raise the chances of harmful gases leaking that may lower air quality, expose employees to elevated levels of harmful VOCs, for example.

As an employer it’s both your responsibility and in your best interests to provide a safe working environment for your employees.

What type of tasks may influence the safety of your work environment?

Our Experienced Occupational Hygienists are able to carry workplace exposure monitoring which aims to recognise, evaluate and minimise the risk of operative ill health from hazardous substances in the workplace.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations place a duty on employers to undertake assessments to evaluate the risks to health when using hazardous substances in the workplace.

The results of workplace monitoring will highlight exposure to hazardous substances and assess the effectiveness of existing control measures, such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Local Exhaust Ventilation Systems.

The results are evaluated against the approved prescribed Workplace Exposure Limits as given by EH40 which has been approved by the Health and Safety commission.

Limit values exist for most of the potentially harmful parameters. Instrumentation for thermal comfort, noise,vibration, gas, heat stress, dust etc now provide a simple solution to protect us all.

As well as offering instruments for most parameters, instruments are also available in several configurations.Personal monitors can be attached to workers to ensure precise assessment of an individual workers exposure. Survey monitors are used to allow supervisors to identify any excessive and unacceptable level of exposure throughout a work area. Area monitors are usually static units. They monitor continuously and provide an indication when pre-set alarms are exceeded. Fixed system monitoring usually for gas provides 24/7 protection and early warning of unsafe conditions.

Where should you consider mercury monitoring?

Mercury is used in main industrial applications. Thermostats, fluorescent bulbs, chemicals and staining solutions to name but a few. Where sealed containers house mercury they must be accessed with care. Any spillage should be monitored with a Mercury Monitor, and if a spillage is identified, should be cleaned up appropriately.

Where spillage is not reported, mercury contamination can present a real challenge as pinpointing mercury spillage is exceptionally challenging.

A spillage will frequently mean mercury liquid scatters some distance from the original drop point. A modest quantity of mercury can result in significant contamination. Mercury will also condense when cold making identification even more difficult.

Inevitably, visually identifying the contamination is not possible. If the spillage occurs onto a carpet or similar flooring identification demands the use of an instrument.

How to survey an area for mercury contamination

When surveying an area for contamination, it is recommended that the following steps are taken;

1. The area should be heated to vapourise any spilt mercury.

2. Start with the perimeter of the room. Because of the scattering of the mercury when spilt, contamination frequently occurs around the perimeter of the room.

3. Mercury sampling should be taken at ankle height as dilution takes place at higher levels.

Using the correct mercury vapour instruments

The Shawcity MVI, mercury vapour indicator, will give a direct reading at levels as low as 0.1micrograms/m3.

  • When vapour is detected, the MVI will rapidly spike to indicate mercury and recover to low levels when moving away from the spillage.
  • Once the spillage points have been identified, clean-up should be carried out.
  • Clean-up requires the use of flower of sulphur. Simple clean-up kits are available.
  • Mercury spillage should never be removed using a vacuum cleaner.
  • The vacuum will become contaminated. Subsequent use of the vacuum would spread mercury creating further contamination.

    If you would like further information about our mercury monitor solutions, available for both hire and purchase please contact us on 01367 899553. Our trained experts will be able to advise you on the correct instrumentation to ensure your working environment is correctly monitored to current legislation and standards.

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