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Occupational dust exposure: Workplace exposure limits that fail to protect

10/09/23 5 min reading time Compliance

Although regulations extensively control the cleanliness of outdoor air, we often overlook the air quality in our workplaces. Surprisingly, the level of particulate matter in production or warehouse facilities is significantly higher than that found on busy streets. Unfortunately, existing workplace exposure limits barely make a difference.  

clean air limits legislation indoor air quality

Why sensible limits are needed to ensure high-quality workplace air

Regulators place a high priority on outdoor air quality, often neglecting the importance of indoor air.

The good news: The importance of health and environmental protection is widely recognised in politics and business.

The bad news: The issue of contaminated air is far from resolved, especially indoors. While outdoor air is relatively well regulated (good news for health and the environment), the legislation falls short when it comes to indoor air quality. The current limits are still too high, allowing even the finest airborne particles to circulate in your company without violating any regulations, putting your team’s health at risk.

No compromises on outdoor air quality

Regulators are well aware of the importance of clean air for good health. The guidelines for monitoring air quality, adopted by the EU and the World Health Organisation (WHO), have accordingly been quite strict. For outdoor air, the following applies:

  • A particulate matter limit of maximum 50 micrograms per cubic metre (50 μg/m³) of size PM10
  • Which may not be exceeded more than 35 times per year

In other words:

Many major cities have implemented environmental zones and constantly monitor their particulate matter pollution. Across Europe, even driving bans have been imposed. This has forced many logistics companies to adjust their schedules. On their websites, they are obligated to state where and when they need to take their trucks off the road.

Clearly, this negatively affects delivery times and supply chains. But it also serves a higher purpose. Because the last thing we want when crossing the street is a coughing fit.

However, despite the legislature's satisfaction with these developments – and, of course, ours too – one thing still falls short: indoor air quality.

Why are workplace exposure limits so important?

It’s all good for outdoor air. It receives enough attention from the legislature. But here's the thing:

On average, we spend between 80 - 90 % of our time indoors. So, it stands to reason that the air quality indoors should be at least as important as the air quality outdoors. But unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

As a result, many companies are not aware that the air quality in their production or warehouse facilities is actually very poor. Because where there's work, there's dust. And where production, transportation, and storage take place, the air gets contaminated.

This is particularly concerning when considering that indoor particulate matter pollution can cause serious illnesses, such as:

  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Cancer
  • COPD.

So, occupational dust exposure and workplace exposure limits should be given serious consideration to ensure the well-being of workers and the overall air quality in indoor environments.

the difference between outdoor and indoor air pollution

These facts will take your breath away

We analysed the particulate matter pollution in 100 warehouses and logistics centres across Europe. The results are alarming:

  • At 82 % of the locations examined, indoor particulate matter levels exceeded the limits of 50 μg/m3 set for outdoor air.
  • At one in four locations, levels even measured over 300 μg/m3.

What this means:

The air quality in these workplaces was even worse than that on a heavily trafficked main road. In fact, a city struggling with such dangerous air pollution would consider implementing a driving ban.

But for some reason, in our workplaces, this is okay?

Take workplace exposure limits seriously and protect employees with air purification!

Ensuring the health and wellbeing of individuals should be a top priority, regardless of where they are exposed to polluted air. This means regulators need to establish stricter workplace exposure limits in general.

The results of our study are anything but reassuring

The findings of our study are far from reassuring, prompting many to question the impact on the health of employees. Let's start by considering the facts.

The average working individual spends approximately eight hours a day in an enclosed workplace, which poses potential health risks.

According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, even a modest increase of 10 μg/m3 in particulate matter in the air raises the likelihood of heart disease by 13 %. Additionally, studies published in 2023 have highlighted the serious risk of dementia among those regularly exposed to indoor particulate matter and other pollutants.

So, what does this mean for employers?

Ensuring high-quality air in the workplace should take priority. Regardless of the existing (and often insufficient) workplace exposure limits mandated by regulations, reducing occupational dust exposure and prioritising the health of employees is crucial. And there are plenty of benefits for doing so:

  • Reduced employee sick days, leading to better planning and reliability.
  • Increased productivity among employees, as they experience improved physical and mental well-being.
  • Enhanced employer image from showcasing a genuine commitment to employee welfare.
  • Improved employee retention, as the team feels valued and appreciated.

But how can employers achieve this?

The answer is no secret: industrial air purification. By implementing air purification systems from Zehnder Clean Air Solutions, you can significantly reduce indoor dust levels by up to 90 %.

Investing in the health and safety of your employees is not only a moral responsibility but also a smart business decision. By creating a clean and healthy work environment, you can foster a happier, more productive workforce.

The benefits for you? Priceless.

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