IOELVs Directive: Welcome step forward in battle against hazardous substance exposure
Occupational exposure to hazardous substances including toxic gas, volatile liquids and compounds, remains a key challenge for health and safety managers. Getting to grips with this often invisible yet very serious threat isn’t easy and is complicated by gaps in legislation, as Thomas Negre, Global Director Gas Setection and Connected Industrial Worker at Honeywell Industrial Safety, explains.
The new Indicative Occupational Exposure Limit Values (IOELVs) Directive (EU) 2017/164 which comes into force on 21 August is a welcome step in the right direction. It presents the safety industry with an opportunity to reassess how to best monitor exposures and protect workers’ health, starting with gas detection technology.
One in two UK companies report that their employees may be at risk of exposure to hazardous substances. The consequences can be dire and range from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) to cancer. In the UK, 30,000 workers suffer from breathing or lung problems and 12,000 die each year as a result of lung disease, which is triggered by unchecked exposures in the workplace. The tragedy is that, with stricter regulations and more effective gas detection in place, many of these diseases and deaths could potentially be prevented. This is where Directive 2017/164 comes in.
The legislation sets more stringent short-term exposure limits (STEL) and eight-hour time weighted average (TWA) exposure thresholds for 31 substances. It introduces exposure thresholds for substances such as nitrogen monoxide (NO) and sulphur dioxide (SO2), which – quite strikingly – aren’t currently regulated despite being known causes of COPD. It also significantly lowers existing IOELVs for other dangerous substances, including carbon monoxide (CO), whose STEL has been halved from 232 mg.m-3 to 117 mg.m-3. This is welcome as even low concentrations of CO can be detrimental to health in the long term.
With stricter regulations in place, using gas detectors effectively will be key to ensuring that the new thresholds, which are based on the most recent scientific data available, aren’t exceeded. Whenever – in line with the hierarchy of controls – eliminating or reducing the risk of exposure is not an option, using gas detectors becomes essential. And selecting and using such equipment correctly is paramount. This is where technology, and the current trend towards wearable technology and edge devices, is expected to make a difference.
Bluetooth-enabled portable gas detectors already combine with software and cloud platform technology to enable health and safety managers to receive and analyse data on a worker’s exposure to a range of toxic gases in real time and over time. In other words, it is possible to monitor the worker’s health from the outset and take proactive safety measures to help prevent occupational diseases later in life.
Technology can also help safety managers manage fleets of gas detectors more effectively, ensuring that they are inspected and maintained on a regular basis. Cloud-based software platforms, for example, automate configuration and testing, immediately showing if an instrument failed a test or is overdue for a test.
Ultimately, businesses will be able to develop an overall safety ecosystem to monitor, track and control exposures and further innovations in wearable sensors could make it possible to monitor virtually any parameter that affects a worker’s health. This technological transformation is key to addressing occupational exposures. Of course, it will hopefully also be underpinned by more comprehensive legislation that evolves in line with the latest scientific findings.
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