Protecting workers from hazards in work environments is common enough. But how common is it to protect the environment from the worker?
Unlike in industrial manufacturing environments, use of coveralls in cleanrooms “serves to protect sensitive processes and products from the ‘hazards’ of the worker, such as skin cells and other particles that may be shed,” says Damon Larkin, a category manager with Kimberly-Clark Professional in Roswell, Georgia.
Standard in pharmaceutical and biotechnology manufacturing workplaces, cleanrooms are designed to ensure there is no more than a very low level of pollutants (think dust, chemical vapours and bacteria) in the air.
Workers in these environments may wear respiratory protection, says Daniel Curts, a senior specialist with 3M Canada Company in London, Ontario. This not only protects workers from usually low concentrations of particulates that may, nonetheless, be highly toxic, but also ensures a product is not contaminated by exhaled breath, Curts explains.
Cleanrooms demand strict protocols, but any work environment would benefit from keeping it clean. Whether a health care facility, a wood processing plant or an office building, employers need to consider options ranging from coveralls to respirators, dust collectors and hand sanitizers.
Dust collectors may be an ideal solution for workplaces where activity creates or stirs up these tiny bits, causing them to become airborne and requiring workers to wear particle masks, says Michael Gerardi, general manager of Scientific Dust Collectors in Chicago.
Gerardi suggests many manufacturing sectors could give safety a leg up with dust, mist or fume collectors: a plastic processing plant where statically charged plastic dust can lead to an explosion, a food or pharmaceutical facility where cleanliness is essential for public safety, or a battery recycling plant that generates toxic lead fumes.
The two main types of dust collectors are fabric baghouses and cartridge collectors, with the type of particle generally dictating which of the two is best to use. In environments with silica spherical-shaped dust particles — such as those associated with silicas, welding fume or graphites — Gerardi suggests that a cartridge collector is a better choice since the dust will come out of the equipment’s pleats.
But demands are different for workplaces with agglomerating, irregular-shaped particles or high-temperature applications like cement plants and foundries, Gerardi says. A fabric baghouse, which looks like a sock, is preferred because it will “pulse off the dust and it will not clog as easily.”
With this option, the air stream passes through the filter and dust collects on the outside, Gerardi says. As dust is gathered, the filter loses efficiency and air flow becomes restricted.
A third type, known as a cyclone dust collector, can be employed to collect large particles first, and then smaller ones in, say, a tire recycling plant. “They’re going to use a cyclone to capture the large stuff, but then the exhaust of the cyclone will now go to a baghouse that is going to collect 99.99 per cent of the fines [particulates] at one micron.”
If the particle is smaller, Gerardi says, a cartridge collector would be used; if it is larger, a baghouse would be preferred. For everything in between, “now you’re taking a look at the type of dust,” he says.
Collecting all but a hundredth of some particulates is impressive, indeed. But what about alcohol-based hand sanitizers? These typically can kill about 99.993 per cent of bacteria and germs within 15 seconds, says Patrick Boshell, marketing manager for Deb Canada in Waterford, Ontario.
These sanitizers may be available in bottles — such as one-litre dispensers, 400-millilitre pump bottles or bottles about a tenth of that size — or through wall-mounted dispensers, says Kathy McGhie, a registered nurse and professional services specialist at 3M Canada.
The latter option accepts the soap, sanitizer or lotion in bag and cartridge formats so there is no need to refill containers, says McGhie, who would recommend against having to refill since that is when contamination can occur.
As well, hand sanitizers should not be used when hands are visibly soiled; clean hands with soap and water first.
Available in gel and foam formats, McGhie says the trend over the past few years has been toward greater use of foam products. The plus is that these spread easily and there is no dripping; the minus is that some foam products dispense smaller volumes. “Sufficient product should be dispensed to adequately cover all surfaces of the hands, and [it] requires approximately 15 seconds to rub in,” she advises.
On the gel versus foam debate, Boshell says gels take longer to dry and can dry out hands more easily. Because they can be gummy, they can also clog nozzles, spouts and pumps.
Boshell recommends that sanitizers contain 70 to 90 per cent alcohol. True, alcohol-based products can dry out the hands, he acknowledges, but some manufacturers reduce this negative by offering products with emollients.
There is still a perception that alcohol-based hand rubs are harder on skin than hand washing, says McGhie. “Studies support that regular and appropriate use of hand sanitizers that contain emollients result in less damage due to irritation and drying of skin than hand washing with soap and water.”
Hand sanitizers are fine to use in workplaces where children are present, or workplaces where food is being prepared. They are also common in “higher-risk” environments such as offices, where keyboards, telephones, computers and photocopiers used by multiple workers create a potential breeding ground for germs and bacteria, McGhie says.
Staff in health care facilities know all about germs and bacteria. They need easy access to sanitizers, which often are available near a patient’s bed, on the wall or on a cart.
“Whenever they have contact with a patient, either physical or some type of body fluid, health care workers [have] to protect themselves, but they also have to protect the next patient they are going to have contact with,” says Boshell.
“If you think how often a nurse has contact with a patient, you can just imagine the amount of alcohol hand sanitizer they are putting on their hands,” he says. If the product is alcohol-based, nurses “don’t have to wash their hands, it’s easily administered, they can continue on.”
McGhie points out, however, that some sanitizers contain active ingredients other than alcohol. She cautions against using these in health care environments, noting that “sufficient studies have not been conducted to determine the effectiveness for that setting.”
Beyond specific products, employers should implement an educational program. The effort will pay off both in terms of protecting workers and helping to reduce absenteeism-related costs.
“An educational tool really motivates compliance and it really gets people to actually use the product,” says Boshell.
But any well-functioning initiative demands ongoing care. McGhie recommends that processes be developed to monitor a product to determine when it should be replaced or replenished, and when it expires.
While the word “audit” may not conjure the most welcoming of images, it can serve as a true friend in terms of keeping on top of things. Deb Canada offers a service to gauge the effectiveness of measures that have been adopted in a workplace, and then performs an audit six months later, says Boshell.
Keeping abreast of issues is always a good idea, particularly since a number of different products or pieces of equipment often work in concert. Consider respirators, coveralls and dust collectors that may be used in a single workplace.
“Respirators are not specifically designed for cleanrooms, but they are designed to protect workers,” says 3M Canada’s Daniel Curts. “Most of these respirator designs are such that they can be considered cleanroom-friendly.”
All respirator filters approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the United States must be at least 95 per cent efficient against a 0.03 micron size particle, he reports. A filter can be tested and rated up to 99.97 per cent efficient against this particle size.
The same standard is used in Canada, notes Manish Gupta, market manager for Draeger Safety Canada Ltd. in Mississauga, Ontario.
In clean work, lightweight N95 particulate respirators are often the gear of choice. “A cleanroom is more of a dust environment, so a filtering mask is all they need,” Gupta says.
Filter masks are popular, likely because they are comfortable, he suggests. “If you’re wearing a respirator for hours, it does get heavy.”
In September, Kimberly-Clark Professional introduced a new sterile pouch facemask. The design and large breathing chamber reduce the chance of particle build-up, and its tight seal helps to reduce goggle fogging, notes a product release from the company.
“A protective, comfortable facemask means better performance,” Larkin notes in the statement. “And better performance means better protection, which is important in sterile environments that require constant monitoring to prevent contamination,” he adds.
Although, in general, filtering masks may be great for cleanrooms, a half-mask respirator is designed more for chemical environments. Curts suggests that employers consider the ability of the respirator to filter airborne contaminants to below their occupational exposure limit, the gear’s comfort, the ease of cleaning and maintenance, its integration with other personal protective equipment and cost.
Whatever the respirator, however, fit testing is a must. Leaking around the nose area is a common concern, Gupta cautions. Often, “the leaking air goes up and hits your safety glasses and then causes them to fog up. So it introduces a new hazard.”
To ensure the best fit, ideally, workers should not just pinch the top of the nose, he advises. They should use both hands to press the nose bridge down to enhance fit, Gupta explains.
Wearer comfort is another essential. Larkin cites coveralls, which can cause workers to become overheated, as an example. “The perspiration from the worker can seep through the garment and then becomes a potential contamination risk,” he says.
“A common cleanroom protocol is that the operator must leave the cleanroom if he or she begins to sweat, thus impacting productivity.”
For cleanroom workers who must ensure coveralls remain sterile during donning, Kimberly-Clark now has inside-out fold design. The inside of the garment faces out so that when its package is opened, the likelihood of touching and contaminating the outside is greatly reduced, Larkin says.
A visible blue line along the inside of the breathable garment indicates the proper place to grasp during gowning, while internal snaps gather up legs and arms to lower the risk of the garment falling to the floor, thereby increasing chances of contamination. “The snaps automatically release as the garment is put on,” Larkin adds.
Whether a work environment demands general cleanliness or something more stringent, the need to remain vigilant cannot be understated.
Jason Contant is editor of CANADIAN OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH & SAFETY NEWS.
A whole host of measures are available to keep a work environment healthy and clean. Deb Canada in Waterford, Ontario recommends taking the following six steps:
– Protect — pre-work creams help protect the skin against various contaminants and materials;
– Cleanse — hand cleansers should meet the specific cleaning needs and preferences of the workplace;
– Sanitize — products that do not require water to kill germs and enhance hand hygiene are ideal for reception areas, cafeterias and public spaces;
– Restore — reconditioning creams can be used after work to maintain healthy skin and avoid dryness;
– Educate — good hand hygiene can be promoted with education, training and awareness materials; and,
– Audit — pre- and post-audits help establish and maintain the effectiveness of a skin safety program.
Coveralls can do double duty in cleanrooms: They protect workers from coming into contact with chemical or biological agents, and prevent products from being contaminated by workers’ lint, hair, skins cells, and bacteria and viruses in saliva.
For the worker’s protection, a company “would need to perform a hazard assessment, noting what chemical or biological agents might the worker come in contact with, the extent of time or duration of the contact, as well as look at the product protection,” notes Anne Miniely, senior technical service representative for 3M Canada Company in London, Ontario.
“There is a regulatory requirement in most jurisdictions to protect the worker from skin contact with chemicals and biological agents, although these requirements are usually not well-defined,” Miniely notes. Requirements, however, have become a little clearer with the December release of two ventilation-related standards south of the border.
The standards were published by the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), in collaboration with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). ANSI/AIHA Z9.9-2010, Portable Ventilation Systems, describes fundamental good practices related to the design, manufacture, labelling, use and application, and maintenance and testing of portable ventilation systems used for controlling airborne contaminants or environmental conditions.
In addition, the revised ANSI/AIHA Z9.10-2010, Fundamentals Governing the Design and Operation of Dilution Ventilation Systems in Industrial Occupancies, establishes minimum requirements for, among other things, commissioning, designing, constructing, installing, managing and testing dilution ventilation systems used to reduce, prevent and control employee exposure to harmful airborne substances in industrial environments.