In an increasingly litigious world, protecting your business against prosecution is an essential part of any major business strategy or policy. Why then, when we have the technology available, do organisations that have employees working in hazardous environments still rely on out-dated dust monitoring systems?
Regulations are becoming tighter but with no accurate, immediate and continuous information about the current levels of dust in the environment, organisations simply cannot make employee safety and wellbeing decisions in real-time. The strategy is either based on “after the fact” data or visual assessments of dust levels, and then just hope for the best. These processes are simply not good enough any longer.
Sad to say, more people die of pulmonary diseases related to work-place exposure to hazards – the majority of which are dust – than the total volume of road user deaths in the UK alone. But this is not a UK-only problem. In the US, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) estimates that 78,000 miners have died from “black lung” disease or pneumoconiosis, in the last 40 years. According to a special publication by the US Department of the Interior and the US Bureau of Mines, over three million workers in the US alone are exposed to silica, which according to the World Health Organisation is also highly likely to be a serious carcinogen, further adding to the health implications.
In National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) studies of the US fracking industry, 79% of samples taken were over above the recommended limit of silica per cubic metre, with 31% at 10X the recommended limit and one sample at 100X the limit. Back in the UK, 500 people are year are dying of work-related instances of silicosis. These deaths are slow, lingering and painful.
The lack of immediate and continuous information leads to organisations struggling to ascertain risk levels, it also constrains regulators’ ability to adequately enforce new regulation. But workers are suffering long term health issues as a result and these statistics raise immediate concerns in the workplace. As awareness rises of the risks associated with dust such as silica, a lack of health and safety information can decrease worker morale and the trust they place in management and the organisation.
The traditional process for analysing air quality relies on collection through a filter over a period of time, or at best on-the-spot snapshot analysis, neither process provides continued monitoring. Typically, safety monitoring involves collecting eight hourly samples which are then sent off to a laboratory for analysis – a process that can take up to two weeks! Employees can be potentially exposed to hazardous materials during this time, yet managers and business decision makers have no data to support critical decisions regarding the use of safety equipment and suppression. By the time the results have arrived back, the damage could already have been done.
In the 21st Century where we real-time information is all around us, how can it be acceptable for organisations to be operating blind and running the risk of exposing employees to harmful substances – and the business to future lawsuits?
Real-time dust monitoring is considerably less expensive and time-consuming. Not only that, it is beneficial to employee safety and provides organisations with real-time insight that can transform day-to-day operations.
With immediate visibility into the quality of the environment, an organisation can embark upon proactive strategies to improve air quality and dust suppression. It also enables organisations to confidently inform employees using accurate information, reinforcing their confidence in the environment and employer. Also, with complete records of the level of exposure of every employee throughout their working life, a company has the information required to counter any possible court case or claim in the future. Both company and workforce are protected.
Using real-time information for dust monitoring in hazardous work environments will go a long way towards minimising employee exposure, reducing employee time off work and negating the risk of legal action in the future. Maybe it is this final benefit that will make the board sit up and pay attention.
With real time monitoring of hazardous work environments, organisations can confidently embrace the operational tactics that tend to create more dust – most notably silica – with full visibility of the impact on air quality and employees’ health, and allay any stakeholder concerns. So what are you waiting for? Bring your organisation into the 21st Century, save money, increase efficiency, protect yourself against future legal action and, most importantly, protect the health and wellbeing of your employees.
- Glyn Jones is CEO of Trolex