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Air Sampling/Testing of Workers Exposed To Chemicals


Written By: Robert E. Sheriff, CIH, CSP, President

January 9, 2019

As of 2018 and hopefully into 2019, industrial work in the United States certainly seems to be expanding. The concern is: Is the effort to control the air that a worker breathes, keeping pace with the industrial expansion? Experience says that it likely will lag behind putting workers—often new hires at risk for work related illnesses.

In short, the potential for worker exposure to chemicals in the workplace will result in an increase in illness, worker compensation claims and OSHA recordable illnesses.

The first step at worker exposure control is to monitor the work environment. The best method of determining worker exposure is actual sampling of the worker while he/she is performing the chemical exposure task. Miniaturization of sampling equipment now allows samplers to be directly attached to the worker. This can be a small, battery powered sampler, or even a small, passive badge sampler attached to the worker while a particular task is performed. The testing can be as short as a few minutes or a full shift. Some samplers are so small they can be attached to the worker’s lapel for a full shift. Once the exposure testing period is complete, the sample can be sent to a laboratory for analysis.

The proper person to do the sampling is referred to as an industrial hygienist—or a specially trained safety person. This industrial hygienist would generally observe the sampled worker for at least some of the time, so that when results are obtained from the laboratory, they can be interpreted in line with the work performed so that a professional judgment can be made as to whether the exposure was safe, and within acceptable exposure limits, and not above any OSHA limit, or other recommended limits.

Interpreting the results, the impact of exposure and the need for corrective measures are more important than the sampling itself—even if done properly. This requires the input of an experienced Industrial Hygienist or other health professional.

As time goes on, the sampling equipment and methods become more accurate but the interpretation of the test results become more complex. Thus, as time goes on and testing equipment and methods improve, the need for an experienced industrial hygienist, toxicologist, and epidemiologist becomes more critical.

Another complexity involves testing and analysis that duplicates the acceptable sampling criteria for OSHA regulated substances. There are about 500 chemical agents in the U.S. Workplace that are specifically regulated by OSHA. Sampling and analysis and interpretation of results regarding OSHA compliance must be done by a person/organization that can duplicate the sampling according to OSHA methods and be able to determine compliance with the appropriate regulations. Where no OSHA limits exist, the qualified professional must identify other sources of information to determine a safe exposure level. For more toxic substances, the qualified professional can recommend controls and substitutions that are less toxic.

We have the technical and professional staff to do sampling and interpretation.

If further information is desired, feel free to contact us at 800-344-4414 or info@atlenv.com

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