In my last post, I highlighted some of the challenges involved in keeping workplace air quality high. One of the benefits to working with a company that has the goal of providing clean air in the workplace is that I have access to a lot of people who know their stuff when it comes to air quality.
One such expert is Greg Schreier, who currently handles our OEM accounts and our focus on the metalworking and thermal spray industries. From past conversation, I know that Greg cares deeply about worker safety and the technology that can be used to ensure it.
I thought it would be instructive to communicate with Greg on some of the issues brought up in my last post. My email interview with him follows.
Clean Air Matters (CAM): Greg, why don’t you tell me a little bit about your experience and expertise with both managing factory environments and keeping the air clean in a metalworking facility.
Greg Schreier (GS): I graduated in 1985 in Industrial Engineering and have been in factories ever since. From 1985 to 1999 I held the positions of industrial engineer, safety engineer, production manager, cell manager, operations manager, engineering manager and director of quality. My manufacturing experience is in food processing, metal machining and welding, fiberglass manufacturing, wood manufacturing and metal cutting/bending/welding. After managing operations for 14 years and installing air filtration equipment into the factories I managed, I decided to become a rep and sell air filtration full-time because I experienced first-hand the effect well-designed air filtration systems have on the lives of the people who spend their days/lives in factories.
CAM: If I work on the floor of a plant that does any kind of metalworking, welding, or fabrication, what are the dangers involved if air quality is not a concern in the workplace?
GS: The dangers vary widely from: air filtration/respiratory issues to noise to slip and fall to pinch/cut and heat/burns and chemical exposures. Every factory is different and creates different hazards for its employees. The Federal Right to Know act was created to hold employers responsible to know their hazards, create a safe work environment, and to educate their employees on these hazards. I recommend to workers that they study the materials and processes they work in, become aware of the hazards involved, work actively with plant safety procedures, and take responsibility for their own safety.
CAM: While working at such a plant, what can I personally do to protect myself and improve the quality of the air I’m breathing?
GS: OSHA requires companies to “engineer the hazard away from workers”. In other words, many companies and employees wear personal protection equipment (PPE) when they are exposed to hazardous situations. This is allowed for one-time issues or non-production operations. In production applications, OSHA does not recognize PPE and requires companies to engineer better ways to produce products and remove hazards from their operations. OSHA does not tell companies what to do or how to do it, but requires them to research and install “Best Available Control Technology (BACT)”. Again, personal awareness of present dangers is every employee’s first and best line of protection.
CAM: Let’s say I’m part of the management team overseeing such a factory. What are the basic options available to keep air clean and safe for our workers?
GS: Air filtration options range from PPE to low-CFM (cubic feet/minute), fractional HP source capture systems to large air volume engineered systems like we sell at Camfil APC. We sell systems that filter the air in entire factories and may have up to 250 HP. Safety of the workers is clearly defined by OSHA regulations specific to the materials being processed and are available for all to read and research.
CAM: My company has looked into dust, fume, or mist collection options for our factory, and it seems too expensive. How do we justify the cost of such systems?
GS: Justification varies widely. Our customers typically justify air filtration systems with recovered/recycled heat and cooling, increased operator safety, reduced housekeeping, reduced maintenance, reduced machine downtime, and in some cases increased production or quality. Some operations, like plasma and laser cutting or anything with hazardous materials and pharmaceutical, simply cannot be run without proper air filtration.
CAM: If I work for in a facility that will not work to rectify air-quality problems, what options are open to me? Is there any constructive conversation I can have with my management team that will help?
GS: Again, become aware of The Right to Know guidelines for the materials and processes you are working with, and professionally present them to your facility production and safety personnel. Education with accurate information is always the best first step when it comes to any safety issues.
I found Greg’s comments interesting and instructive. Here’s my takeaways:
- If you work in a production environment, you must take responsibility for your own safety. That might entail more than simply working safely yourself. If your company isn’t following the applicable guidelines, confusing as those guidelines may be, you owe it to yourself to approach your management and see what can be done to improve working conditions.
- I thought that if you were handed a dust mask and gloves for your job on the line, that was enough for an employer to be considered safe. But that’s not true. Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) options are only sufficient for one-time or non-production jobs.
- Your employer owes you a safe workplace. It’s the law of the land in the USA.
- There is ample justification for installing a proper air filtration system, even from an economic standpoint. When an employer refuses to install proper equipment to keep their employees safe because of the costs involved, they’re not aware of (or choosing to ignore) the evidence available.
Make it your goal to be involved in keeping the workplace safe for you and for others. As an employee of Camfil APC, I’m biased toward their products; I think they’re the best option for keeping the workplace clean and safe while providing the best long-term cost of ownership. But if you are an employer of production workers, please do something to keep your employees safe, even if that means looking at other brands. The human cost of poor air quality in the workplace is simply too high to ignore.