SkyCity Fire Highlights Importance of Managing Exposure to Airborne Contaminants

Following last month’s SkyCity fire, air quality experts have estimated the event caused a spike in particulate levels in Queen St air to more than five times national air quality standards. Smoke from the fire carried a combination of particles, burnt bitumen, wood smoke, and smoke from other building materials – resulting in tiny toxic particles potentially being drawn into the lungs and blood vessels of Aucklanders exposed. 

The event and subsequent air quality research serves as a timely reminder of the hazards of particulate spikes, which, at that level, could increase the risk of stroke, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. It also highlights the importance of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) for New Zealand workers who may be exposed to harmful substances, such as isocyanates, dusts and asbestos.

TriEx offers a variety of air quality and related health services, including lung function testing and Respirator Fit Testing and education.

Spirometry

Spirometry is an office test measuring lung function by testing the amount of air you inhale, how much air you exhale and how fast you exhale. It’s useful in diagnosing breathing conditions by measuring the speed your lungs can be filled and emptied of air – giving an indication of how well your lungs are performing.

TriEx offers lung function tests – including spirometry – for employees who are exposed to contaminants in the air that could affect lung function.

What does Lung Function Testing Include?

  • Assessment of the employee’s past and present air contaminant history (includes recreational)

Full diagnostic Spirometry

Explanation of the results to the employee

Education on responsibility to protect

Assessment of their respiratory protection to comply with your annual audit of PPE

Lung Function Testing Helps You:

  • Identify employees at risk from hazardous air contaminants in the workplace
  • Comply with the ‘Approved Code of Practice for the Safe Use of Isocyanates’ and ‘Workplace Exposure Standards’
  • Take necessary action with regard to respiratory protection

What can Employees Expect During Their Test?

Spirometry tests are straightforward and will usually only take around 15 minutes. The test involves taking a full breath in and blowing out with your best effort into a tube attached to the spirometer machine.

To ensure accuracy, the test will be performed three times, and employees will be asked to:

  • Breathe in as deeply as they can
  • Seal their lips around the mouthpiece
  • Blow out as hard and fast as they can, and keep going as long as possible.

Spirometry tests may cause employees to feel a bit puffed, but usually it is not uncomfortable.  

If your workers are likely to be exposed to airborne contaminants, you will need to undertake air monitoring for chemical and dust exposure.

Respirator Fit Testing

Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is a type of personal protective equipment (PPE) that guards workers from breathing in substances hazardous to health. 

Airborne substances harmful to health can be in found dust, mist, vapour or gas form, and employees may or may not be able to see these in the air. Common health effects from breathing hazardous substances may include headaches, forgetfulness, drowsiness, feeling dizzy and sick, mood changes, and eye and skin irritation. Effects can be short and long-term, with long-term effects including sleep disorders, memory loss, cancer, organ damage, fertility problems and death. 

If anyone in your team wears Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) then as the PCBU you must provide information, training or instruction on how to correctly use, wear, store and maintain the RPE.

RPE Fit Testing Requirements

Fit testing is required by AS/NZS 1715 before a respirator is worn in the workplace to ensure workers are wearing properly fitting RPE, with an effective seal to the face. 

A fit test should be conducted:

  • Upon the issue of RPE, 
  • Whenever a different size, style, model or make of respirator is used
  • When any facial changes occur that could affect fit, such as significant weight changes or significant dental work

RPE fit tests should also be conducted at least annually to ensure fit remains correct. TriEx recommends fit testing alongside annual health monitoring, where our Occupational Health Nurses discuss respiratory history and exposure history an perform lung function testing.

What is Involved in RPE Fit Testing?

TriEx carries out Qualitative Fit Testing for half face respirators used in environments where the hazard is less than 10 times the workplace exposure standard.

A sensitivity test is completed without RPE under a hood. The RPE is then worn and either a bitter or sweet solution is introduced whilst the worker carries out a variety of activities for one minute each including:

  • Normal breathing
  • Deep breathing
  • Moving head side to side
  • Moving head up and down
  • Bending over (or jogging in place)
  • Talking
  • Normal breathing again

RPE Education

Education is given as part of TriEx’s RPE Fit Testing service. This education includes care and maintenance of respiratory equipment and how to fit check RPE.

Contact TriEx today to learn more about lung function testing and RPE fit testing and education. Our experts can advise you on the most appropriate services to meet your business needs.

October Newsletter

The final quarter of 2019 is here and the official start of Summer is just 5 weeks away! Many of our clients are currently taking time to review their occupational safety policies and procedures in anticipation of the warmer months ahead, while making a start on their planning for (gasp!) 2020. That’s why, this month, we’re providing some timely expert advice on the importance of reducing your team’s risk of heat stress, and tips on supporting your team to increase their activity levels in the ongoing fight against obesity.

Read our October newsletter online for full details.

Accelerated Silicosis

Last month we wrote about the dangers of silica dust and silicosis. Since then WorkSafe have issued a safety alert for stonemasons working in the bench top manufacturing industry. This is after a high number of silicosis cases have been confirmed in Australia – 99 confirmed cases in people working with engineered stone bench tops. Silicosis is an irreversible and progressive disease that causes fibrosis of the lungs from inhaling respirable crystalline silica (RCS). Many of the Australian cases have been consistent with accelerated silicosis – a form of the disease which develops over a short period of time, between 5 and 10 years. 

Why Bench Tops?
Engineered stone bench tops are an increasingly popular choice for kitchens and bathrooms. They are made by mixing finely crushed rock with a polymeric resin and then moulded into slaps and cured. The silica content of this engineered stone is approx 90% silica — much higher than natural stone. The exposure comes when someone cuts, grinds, sands or polishes the material during the manufacture and installation. 

Advice From WorkSafe
Before starting work using engineered stone, businesses must complete a risk assessment and review their controls. It is important to consider eliminating uncontrolled dry cutting, grinding or polishing of engineered stone. If this is not possible than exposure heeds to be minimised. Read their full advice here

To monitor the exposure we can help organise a visit from on Occupational Hygienist. You can also engage our nursing team to carry out health monitoring of your employees. To contact our team email enquiries@triex.co.nz or call 0800 487 439.

If you have concerns about accelerated silicosis WorkSafe have a contact form on their website here, as well as links all their guidance documentation. 

Silica Dust

What is Silica & Silica Dust?

Silica is everywhere. It’s part of bricks, concrete and mortar. It’s in tiles and the slates on our roofs. It’s found naturally in stone and rocks. Even some fillers and plastic composite products use silica. Left alone, silica is safe. But if you work on materials that are made up of silica, you’ll be releasing dangerous silica dust. Activities such as concrete drilling, cutting, grinding, fettling, mixing, handling, dry shoveling and tunneling can all result in exposure.

The industries with the highest risk of exposure include construction, quarrying, mining, concrete manufacturing, brick & tile manufacturing, foundries, abrasive blasting, roading and monumental masonry work.

Silica dust is the very fine dust that’s created when you cut, drill, grind, chip or sand materials and products like stone, bricks, concrete, tiles or mortar.

Why is Silica Dust Dangerous?

Silica dust can be harmful if you breathe it in. Silica dust particles are much smaller than normal dust (sometimes invisible to the naked eye) – and they can get deep into your lungs and stay there, permanently damaging the lung tissue and eventually leading to serious lung diseases in some people. Silica dust can cause silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and kidney disease.

Eliminate the Exposure

Consider changing the product or process, for example use alternative products (eg metallic shot, slag products or grit for abrasive blasting, instead of sand).

Getting materials cut to size off-site in a facility where dust exposure can be controlled more easily.

Minimise the Exposure

Read more →

Heat in the Workplace

We are into the last month of what is officially summer, however the hot weather is still going strong and it is important to remain vigilant around the risks when working in heat.

The safe working temperature is not based on air temperature alone. Factors to consider in regards to heat also include humidity, radiant heat (the heat emitted from an object or surface), physical activity and clothing.

Minimising the risk of harm for extreme temperatures can include isolation and engineering controls including:

  • Ventilation and air conditioning
  • Shielding
  • Process modification
  • Heat reduction

If you are working outdoors it is always important to cover up, apply a high SPF sunblock, and to stay hydrated. 

Read more →

Workplace Exposure Standards

WorkSafe NZ released the updated Workplace Exposure Standards (WES) and Biological Exposure Indices (BEI) – Edition 10 November 2018 – late last year. These new standards are available for download here

After consultation and review earlier last year there have been changes to 15 Work Exposure Standards and 17 biological exposure indices and these are highlighted in the preface.

An in depth explanation of what these are and their importance is available on the WorkSafe website here.

For any enquiries about biological exposure monitoring of your employees or environmental monitoring of your workplace please contact our team on enquiries@triex.co.nz or phone 0800 487 439.

Occupational Health and Occupational Hygiene – What’s the difference?

Many workplaces monitor the health of their employees by completing a variety of health tests, including lung function and hearing. Others monitor the environment of their workplace, including the atmosphere and noise levels. They all should be doing both. Here’s why.

Read more →

Control airborne particulates in your workplace

Every year, an estimated 600-900 people die in New Zealand from work-related health issues and a further 5,000-6,000 are hospitalised with cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other chronic illnesses from workplace exposure to airborne contaminants.

Dust and other airborne particulates are a difficult hazard to manage, as the particles that cause the most damage are very difficult to detect visually. Normally the only time you’ll see them is during the late afternoon as the sun shines through a crack or window and creates a haze or shaft of light. WorkSafe NZ have launched the Clean Air programme, which is their first targeted intervention on work-related health. To reduce the risk of exposure to airborne contaminants, businesses can do the following.

Eliminate Airborne Contaminants from the workplace

PCBUs must eliminate the risk if it’s reasonably practicable. For example, isocyanate paints can be eliminated from the workplace by replacing them with water-based paints.

Minimise risks

If elimination isn’t reasonably practicable, minimise worker exposure to these products. Examples for silica dust are to fit extraction systems or use water suppression systems.

Issue Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)

If a risk to health still remains, supply RPE to workers. Make sure they know why they need to wear it, how to use it and that it fits properly.

RPE should not be the sole method of reducing risk. It must be used alongside other minimisation controls.

Fit test RPE

Fit testing is very important. RPE works if it forms a seal around the wearer’s nose and mouth. Fit testing is conducted by trained specialists. Your safety gear supplier can help you locate one.

Monitor workers’ exposure to airborne contaminants

Monitor workers’ exposure to airborne contaminants to check the levels of dust, vapour or fumes being created. Always consider if those levels can be further reduced. Exposure monitoring can help you find out if workers are being exposed to a hazard at harmful levels or detect whether the controls you have in place for that hazard are adequate.

Monitor workers’ lung health annually. This also helps you know whether the controls are working, and may detect early symptoms of work-related ill-health.

Provide workers with information and training

Make sure workers know about the health risks and controls for airborne contaminants. ‘Toolbox talks’ can be useful here.

Make sure workers understand the risks, what they need to do to protect themselves, and why it’s important to take part in exposure and health monitoring.

To learn how our qualified Occupational Hygiene Team can help you reduce the risk of respiratory ill-health in your workplace, call us on 0800 487 439 or email enquiries@triex.co.nz 

Negligent asbestos removal puts others at risk

A small business in Timaru has been fined $10,000 for failing to follow correct asbestos removal procedures. This error of judgement stems from a failure to test the building for asbestos prior to demolition.

This case highlights the importance of having an asbestos survey undertaken by a competent person and implementing an asbestos management plan. WorkSafe are reminding businesses and property owners that a negligent approach to removing asbestos not only puts you at risk but also those around you.

This message comes after Topham Holding Limited was recently sentenced in the Timaru District Court.

During the demolition of an old chicken shed in 2016, Topham Holding’s sole Director removed sheeting which contained asbestos, without first engaging a competent person to ensure the asbestos was removed. The director had ignored advice from WorkSafe a year earlier that the building was likely to contain asbestos and needed to be surveyed, and proceeded to carry out the demolition regardless.

Cheif Inspector of Investigations Keith Steward said: “Topham Holding was aware of the presence of asbestos and was negligent in ignoring the well-known risks of asbestos and our advice about the demolition.”

“No one is exempt from managing the risk of asbestos appropriately. Asbestos management is not a job for a layperson – it is a job for a competent and trained professional. It’s not just about keeping you safe and healthy – but those are you as well”.

Topman Holding Limited was sentenced under the Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016, as the company was a PCBU with management or control of a workplace or of a structure and yet failed to ensure as far as reasonably practicable that the asbestos was removed before demolition – a requirement under these regulations.

TriEx can assist you in ensuring you’re meeting your obligations under the Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016. Call us on 0800 4 TriEx (0800 487 439) or email enquiries@triex.co.nz.

TriEx Asbestos Accreditation

TriEx – An internationally accredited asbestos service provider

When businesses select a supplier to fulfil their asbestos inspection needs, they need to be assured and confident that the Inspection Body can supply a technically competent, effective service with consistently reliable results. Assurance of this can be achieved with accreditation and TriEx have successfully gained IANZ accreditation to ISO 17020 for Surveying and Sampling for Asbestos. This allows TriEx, as an asbestos inspection body, to benchmark its work practices against the world’s best practices. This internationally recognized standard evaluates the technical competence of TriEx performing inspection activities and for the impartiality and consistency of our inspection activities.

Our dedication and focus on quality and technical accuracy is the foreground of everything we do, We are dedicated to delivering practical cost effective work place solutions and impartial advice. With your asbestos management in our hands you can focus on your core business interests, confident in the knowledge that you are compliant with your legal obligations and providing a safe built environment for your employee’s and clientele.

Our Asbestos team is lead by our asbestos manager and is supported by our team of experienced surveyors. The team are highly trained and all hold the BOHS IP402 – Surveying and Sampling for Asbestos Qualification, ensuring the results and recommendations in our technical reports are of the highest quality and integrity.

Our wide scope of accreditation now covers the following:

  • Surveying for Identification of potential Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs)
  • Management Surveys (Domestic, Commercial, Industrial)
  • Refurbishment and Demolition Surveys (Domestic, Commercial, Industrial)
  • Bulk Sampling for Verification of Asbestos
  • Evaluation of survey results (including the provision of advice about the management of risks and priority assessment)
  • Re-inspection of identified or suspected asbestos containing materials in surveyed premises

If you would like to learn more about our Asbestos services please contact us on enquiries@triex.co.nz or call us on 0800 4 TRIEX (0800 487 439).