As of 2016, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Labor (which includes OSHA) partnered to bring federal charges against companies who expose workers to dangerous materials and carcinogens. Hazardous fume and dust exposure in the workplace is indeed a serious offense.
Environmental Protection Laws Facilitate Prosecution
This partnership is to enable prosecutors to use powerful environmental protection laws. With these laws, they can prosecute companies for worker safety violations involving exposure to dangerous substances. This will allow prosecutors working on OSHA worker exposure cases to work with the Environmental Crimes Section of the DOJ to maximize penalties and criminal charges.
In many cases, environmental protection laws are stricter and have stronger punishments than OSHA regulations. Environmental protection has wide public support and considerably more funding than occupational health and safety. There is an entire division of the DOJ that handles environmental crimes. More effectively, these crimes may carry a much heavier fine or more serious criminal charges.
OSHA’s ability to level criminal charges is usually limited to certain situations. This is where an employer willfully and knowingly violates safety standards which cause the death of a worker. These cases can be difficult to prove and even more difficult to prosecute. Under laws regulating environmental crimes, releasing or failing to control any workplace hazard exposure to dangerous substances is a crime. This applies even if the exposure does not result in death or serious injury.
Just like with OSHA fines, the most serious criminal charges will go to employers who repeatedly violate the rules or who fail to correct problems even when they know about them. Bringing in the DOJ and their regulation of environmental laws is likely to affect companies who aren’t following the rules for controlling or cleaning up their hazardous materials.
Identifying Hazardous Fume and Dust in the Workplace
Workplace hazard exposure includes materials such as fumes and dust from many types of industrial processes. Some examples are welding, plasma or laser cutting, manufacturing of plastics and resins, printing inks and pigments, as well as production of chemicals or fertilizers.
OSHA usually sets exposure limits for employees. Environmental regulations set limits for material release into the environment, regardless of the exposure to individual employees. Under the DOJ, environmental laws can handle hazardous material release amounts inside a facility.
For metalworking facilities, hexavalent chromium, manganese, and other components of cutting and welding fumes are heavily regulated as environmental toxins. Exposing people to these materials, inside or outside, can be an environmental crime. Hexavalent chromium often contaminates drinking water, and it’s a major environmental concern.
For companies that use or produce hazardous dust or fumes, a dust collection system is very important for limiting exposure. The system will not only keep the materials away from workers but also collects them safely and allows you to dispose of them properly. A dust and fume collection system that’s maintained and used correctly is a necessary tool for controlling hazardous airborne particles or fumes. Contact us for more information.
Weld Smoke and Fume Dangers
Weld smoke is a direct cause of Pneumosiderosis, also known as welder’s lung. Inhaling iron dust or fumes, usually from welding, is a serious health issue. While it’s one of the most common occupational lung diseases of welders, it’s not the only one. Welders are also at risk of chronic bronchitis and cancer. Fortunately, a properly designed dust and fume collector, like our CMAXX™, can prevent these problems.
A case study from the publication Cases Journal gives an example of how welder’s lung can occur. It follows the case of a 64-year-old man who went to his doctor with a cough. He had worked as a welder in an automobile factory for 15 years, welding steel frames. The work area was small and enclosed, without a proper dust collection system to remove weld smoke and fumes.
The man’s doctor found that his lung X-ray was abnormal. Tests showed that his lungs contained many white blood cells full of iron. White blood cells remove things from your lungs that don’t belong there, but large amounts of inhaled iron are too much for them to handle. This buildup of iron causes coughing, shortness of breath, and eventually chronic lung disease.
They advised the man to stop working as a welder. His doctor treated him for his symptoms, and after some time his lung function returned to normal. However, he remains at an increased risk of lung cancer as a result of his long exposure to hexavalent chromium present in the steel.
Along with welder’s lung, inhaled welding dust or fumes also causes an increased risk of cancer. Hexavalent chromium, found in the steel the man in the case study worked on, is a known carcinogen. Welding, in general, increases cancer risk.
How Do You Prevent These Risks?
Because the fumes and smoke from welding contain iron and other metals in very, very small particles, inhalation deep into the lungs is easy. Because these particles are so small, our DeltaMAXX™ nanofiber filters are efficient at removing dust as small as .3 microns, making them an excellent choice for welding and other metalworking applications.
While pneumosiderosis most often affects welders because they are usually very close to the materials they’re working with, the same problem can affect people who are exposed to fumes from laser or plasma cutting. Dust from these applications also may contain hexavalent chromium and other health hazards. Our CMAXX™ system for cutting tables can remove fumes from the air before employees are exposed to them.
The most basic way to prevent welder’s lung is to remove weld smoke and fumes from the air that welders are breathing. A dust and fume collection system like the CMAXX™ can be designed to capture fumes from individual welding stations or from the ambient air. Our systems work with you to keep welders safe and healthy. Learn more about welding fumes and cancer.
Welding Fumes Meet “CSI”: Why Scientists Are Collecting Welders’ Toenails
A group of researchers interested in exposure to metals in welding fumes come to your workplace to collect samples. You might think they’d be there to test the air quality or to take samples of fumes or dust. However, these researchers didn’t come to do any of those things. The only equipment they bring with them: paper envelopes and toenail clippers.
That’s right… these researchers are here for your toenails.
That’s how researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (Grashow et al, 2014) studied the long-term exposure to toxic metals in weld fumes in a group of welders in Massachusetts. The welders provided several toenail samples over a period of time for analysis of the clippings.
Some forensics television shows have investigators acquire a hair sample and test it for poison. This works because many things that get into our bloodstream, including metals, deposit into our hair and fingernails as they grow. The researchers chose toenails because they grow more slowly and give a record that covers a longer period of exposure.
So what did they find?
Even among workers who wore respirators, researchers were able to detect lead, manganese, cadmium, nickel, and arsenic. Lead is a well-known health hazard, and you probably know that arsenic isn’t a good thing either. Long-term exposure to manganese often leads to central nervous system problems that can mimic Parkinson’s disease. Cadmium can cause cancer, and nickel can cause skin problems and lung irritation.
Respirators are a key part of controlling exposure to welding fumes. However, exposure to enough of these metals would reveal their presence in their toenails. While it wasn’t within the scope of this research study to determine exactly how workers were exposed, one possibility is that respirators may be worn while welding, but not while doing other work around the shop in places where dust from cutting and welding may have accumulated.
A dust collection system that removes welding fumes and dust from the air completely will prevent toxic metal particles from accumulating in your work areas. Respirators may prevent inhalation during welding, but if the weld fumes aren’t being removed from the air, workers can still be exposed to it. A system that keeps the air clean for your entire facility doesn’t just protect workers while they’re wearing respirators. It protects all of your workers, all of the time.
Grashow, R. et al (2014). Toenail metal concentration as a biomarker of occupational welding fume exposure. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, 11, 397-405.