July 2018 Issue

Hazardous fumes are a pervasive issue for fabricators that rely on welding, laser cutting and other processes that generate heat. To protect employees from breathing in noxious fumes, companies install plant-wide fume extraction systems to clean the indoor air. And, depending on the type of fumes and how they are generated, companies also provide employees with at-the-source fume extraction products and other PPE to further protect themselves.

Pferd cut-off wheels feature long life with maximum cuts per wheel, reducing the dust created by the product’s own consumption.

The quality of air in a shop, however, isn’t only dictated by gaseous fumes. Dust and metal chips produced by abrasive tasks can also have a harmful impact on employee health. While the type of dust poses a health threat, the size of the particle can also create additional problems. The smaller the particulate, the greater the possible health hazard.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “whenever people inhale airborne dust at work, they are at risk of occupational disease. Year after year, both in developed and in developing countries, overexposure to dusts causes disease, temporary and permanent disabilities, and deaths.

Dusts in the workplace may also contaminate or reduce the quality of products, be the cause of fire and explosion, and damage the environment.”

Inhalable Dust

As with gaseous fumes, dust can be a noticeable issue in a facility. Depending on how much is produced over the course of a workday, it can accumulate in the air, creating a haze throughout a shop.

Pferd’s ALU
cut burrs offer aggressive removal
on aluminum and non-ferrous materials while producing large chips instead of inhalable dust.

“If dust clouds are seen in the air, it is almost certain that dust of potentially hazardous sizes is present,” said WHO in an online publication addressing airborne dust. “However, even if no dust cloud is visible, there may still be dangerous concentrations of dust present with a particle size invisible to the naked eye under normal lighting conditions.”

When employees are exposed to dust – visible or invisible – occupational lung diseases can be of particular concern. The WHO lists cancer, asthma, allergic alveolitis and irritation as issues associated with overexposure to airborne dust. Furthermore, systemic intoxication, such as lead poisoning, can also be of concern when exposure levels are high.

To combat these serious side effects, it’s important to identify the type of dust that is to be collected. In metals fabrication environment, the typical dust produced is metallic in nature, ranging from the particulate byproducts of processing aluminum, steel and other metals.

Pferd’s Ceramic SGP Steelox grinding wheel features a hard bond and special bond structure for extremely long life.

It’s equally important to understand that the size of the particulate matters, especially when producing metal chips during abrasive processes. In some cases, the particulate or chip size being generated can be controlled.

According to Pferd Inc., a particle with a diameter larger than 10 microns is referred to as coarse dust. This dust can be easily caught on nasal hairs or mucous membranes, keeping it out of the lungs.

Smaller particles, however, can make their way past the mucous membrane and penetrate deep into the lung. This smaller dust, referred to as inhalable or respirable dust, is of the greatest concern – especially when it exceeds the threshold limit value or total daily exposure limit of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of air outlined by the American Conference of Government Industrial Hygienists.

Controlling Size

When the size of the particulate can be controlled, employee health benefits. In addition to the difficulty of inhaling larger chips into the lungs, bigger chips are heavier and fall to the ground as opposed to floating in the air. Fortunately, several abrasives products can produce larger, heavier chips, such as Pferd’s high-performance carbide burrs.

According to Rick Shagoury, marketing communications manager at Pferd, the company’s high-performance carbide burrs were specifically designed with operator safety in mind. “Our engineers and product managers engineer the teeth of the burrs to cut the largest possible chips,” he explains. “They fall directly to the ground and are easy to collect. Most importantly, they’re impossible to inhale.”

Similarly, Pferd’s Polifan-Strong flap discs can produce the safer, larger sized chips. The discs are used for grinding work on steel and boast fast stock removal rates with a coarse grit. The flap discs are available in two grit sizes, 36 and 50. The range of abrasive grit sizes can go up into the tens of thousands with higher grit numbers used for finer sanding.

“If you use a coarse grit, you’ll end up with larger chips, and if you use a finer grit, you’ll get dust,” Shagoury explains.

When choosing the grit size that’s best suited for a specific abrasive task, it’s important to keep employee health in mind. Companies like Pferd can work with customers to determine the coarsest product that can be used and still get the job done.

Product Longevity

Inhalable chips from the material being worked, however, aren’t the only byproduct of abrasive tasks that employers need to be concerned with. As abrasive consumables wear down, harmful dust can be created by the product’s own consumption. Therefore, consumables with longer service life are less prone to disintegration during use and less harmful to employees.

Knowing this, Pferd develops various abrasive products with longevity in mind. These include the company’s resin-bonded products, such as thin cut-off wheels and rough grinding wheels. Pferd’s Ceramic SGP Steelox grinding wheel, for example, is manufactured with an unusually hard bond and proprietary bond structure, vastly increasing its service life and reducing the production of dust.

“Fabricators should always consider what kind of dust is being produced by the consumption of the abrasive product itself,” Shagoury explains. “As a wheel wears down, that dust will inevitably enter into the air. Even with brushes, the wire tips break off as you use the product and those, too, can make their way into the breathable air. So clearly, consumption is something to keep in mind when purchasing abrasive products. A product that is less prone to deterioration is better for all involved.”

Continuing Pferd’s focus on products with low emissions, many of the company’s pneumatic power tools do not require oil, which means the exhaust they emit is cleaner and safer to breathe.

Safety Responsibilities

To determine the size and amount of particulates in the air, plenty of instruments are available for fabricators to purchase and use on their own, including a device called a sniffer. A sniffer is a small box – about the size of a remote control – that takes a sample of particulates in the air to produce a measurement in microns of the average particle. Once the size of the particulate has been determined, the proper dust mitigation solutions can be considered.

Pferd’s PGT 1/1000 turbine air grinder runs without the
need for oil in the air line, reducing contaminants in the operating environment.

Dust mitigation, as previously described, can be managed through the size of chips produced. But in situations where fine dust is impossible to avoid, additional dust extraction solutions must be installed. Considering that particulates come in many forms – wet, dry, metal, ceramic, flammable – a multitude of ways to control and contain the airborne dust are available.

Choosing the best solution based on the type of dust produced can be made easier by partnering with a company that offers dust removal systems. These systems are designed with the hazards of inhalation in mind, but they’re also engineered to protect employees from other hazards, such as the presence of flammable materials.

“Any airborne flammable dust in sufficient concentrations can explode,” WHO reported. “Combustible dust on the ground may become airborne and increase and propagate an explosion that is started by flammable gas ignition. This can occur with vegetable and organic materials, as well as with metal and other oxidizable dusts.”

So in addition to installing dust mitigation according to the type of particulates being produced, it’s simply good practice to have an up-do-date dust extraction system that works to produce clean air throughout a plant. Business owners must also provide employees with additional PPE, such as masks and respirators.

More so than anything else, when working in environments that produce dust, proper safety training is critical.
Rick Shagoury, marketing communications manager, Pferd Inc.

Finally, employees should have access to a company’s safety manual, which should include the type of hazards they are exposed to, the available PPE and explanations of the proper protocol to follow when exposed to various hazards.

“These employer responsibilities are required by law,” Shagoury says. “PPE has to be provided and enforced, and equally important, workers need to know what materials and chemicals are in the materials they’re working on and in the consumables that they’re using. If an employee ever has any questions or concerns, they should reach out to a safety officer or human resources director. More so than anything else, when working in environments that produce dust, proper safety training is critical.”