Written by Occupli Safety Consultant Jake Bumpus

Despite the increasing prevalence of engineered powder transfer systems, it is still common in industrial settings for workers to be required to manually transfer powder products (e.g. product weighed out from a 200 litre drum, using a scoop, into 10 kg bags). These powder products can have a variety of chemical hazards, such as being classified as an irritant. This article discusses what safety considerations may need to be taken to undertake this type of task safely.

As for any hazard present in a workplace setting, the controls needed to protect the workers doing this task should be determined using a robust risk assessment process. Specifically when considering chemical hazards, the first step is to determine the likely degree of exposure (i.e. dose) when handling the substance.

Assuming that the worker is carrying out the weighing and transfer tasks on a regular basis (e.g. multiple times per shift), then in the absence of any other engineering controls, their potential exposure is likely to be high, both via inhalation and skin/eye contact. Whether or not the Occupational Exposure Limit Value has been provided for the substance, it is possible that over time this will cause skin/eye irritation and will have a detrimental impact on the worker’s health.

To determine the appropriate controls that should be put in place, we must consider the hierarchy of controls. It is assumed that it is not possible to eliminate or substitute the powder product – that it is a necessary component of a product in a pharmaceutical setting.

In terms of engineering controls, we should consider whether it is possible to modify the transfer method in some way that would reduce the exposure to workers, for example using a closed powder transfer system to transfer the powder, continuous liners to contain the powder during transfer, or some form of powder lance rather than a manual scoop. It would be common practice to undertake this transfer in a booth that provides excellent ventilation, such as a downflow booth/laminar flow booth, which would reduce exposure by minimising the build up of dust clouds around the breathing zone of the operator.

In terms of administrative controls, ensuring that personnel who undertake this task are suitably trained and competent would be an important control to implement, as well as making the Safety Data Sheets of the material available so that they are aware of the inherent hazards of what they are handling.

Finally, it may be appropriate to provide workers with Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) – the exact type of RPE (non-powered, powered, loose-fitting, tight-fitting) being selected appropriate to the specific material properties. It is important that workers are provided with their own set of RPE, and that they undertake fit-testing to ensure that it provides the necessary protection. PPE is also likely to be required, such as overalls and safety glasses, to minimise skin/eye contact. Anti-static safety shoes may also be required, particularly if the powder poses an explosive hazard as a dust cloud in air.

Occupli Consultancy is a leading provider of professional occupational health and hygiene. Our expert hygienists carry out monitoring covering different work locations, activities and conditions. The main reason for completing Occupational Hygiene Monitoring is to determine the level of hazardous substances in the work environment.

Did you know that Occupli Consultancy also offer the following;

·       Asbestos Safety Support Services Click here for more information

·       Legionella Risk Assessment Click here for more information

·       Occupational Noise Assessments Click here for more information

·       Vibration Assessment And Surveys Click here for more information