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January 6, 2010

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Machine-made mineral fibres and COSHH regulations

Russell Dunne explores the types, common uses and lifecycle of machine-made mineral fibres (MMMF), looking at how the COSHH Regulations specifically apply, and suggesting practical advice for the different occasions when workers will be exposed to MMMF.

As a result of the mandatory reduction in the use of asbestos, and its subsequent prohibition, the use of machine-made mineral fibres (MMMF) has become widespread. These fibres have been developed to mirror the properties of asbestos and so are used in acoustic, thermal, fire protection and reinforcement applications.

Much research has been carried out into MMMF in an effort to predict the likelihood of these newer fibres also causing similar pulmonary diseases to asbestos. However, because they are less likely to be inhaled into the lung, and those that are will be biologically removed much quicker, the risk of fibrosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma is very small (see panel below). Indeed, Wilson et al1 predict the risk of death to a worker blowing glass wool into loft spaces as being 5.6 in a million each year. In context, being president of the Unites States has a risk of one in 80 (three presidents have been shot dead in 240 years), and a US police officer will have a risk of three in 10,000.

Nonetheless, refractory ceramic fibres (RCF), a small subset of MMMF, are classified as potentially carcinogenic to humans (see table 1 overleaf). All forms of MMMF are classed as irritants, mainly affecting the skin and eyes, although in dusty conditions the throat can be irritated. It should come as no surprise that all forms of MMMF come under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations.

MMMF have many applications. Practitioners will normally encounter them in buildings, so the COSHH Regulations need to be considered. While inhalation exposure should always be as low as reasonably practicable, the Maximum Exposure Limit (MEL) should not be exceeded over a time-weighted average (TWA) eight-hour period.

Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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