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Are you using outdated technology to protect the health of your workforce?

Author : Glyn Jones, CEO, Trolex

29 January 2020

Without real-time and continuous monitoring, applying accurate safety controls in hazardous environments is impossible, argues Glyn Jones, CEO, Trolex Group.

(Click here to view article in digital edition)

Accurately monitoring and controlling the displacement of fine dust in harsh and hazardous workplaces is not just a pre-requisite of any competent safety procedure, it is a genuine health hazard with potentially fatal consequences.

Consistent and long-term inhalation of fine dust particles can lead to any number of lung and respiratory diseases – from asthma and silicosis, to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and in some cases, Cancer.

Even if prolonged exposure doesn’t result in a fatal health condition, the impact is chronic and life-altering illnesses are widespread among current and former workers within industries from mining, tunnelling and quarrying to ceramic and foundry businesses.

Can the problem be suppressed?

Efforts to control the level of exposure workers have to fine dust particles has spawned a wave of suppression systems and products. However, controlling the levels of dust is not the underlying issue, understanding its presence in a given environment in the first place is the real challenge when it comes to monitoring harsh and hazardous environments.

The fact is that existing technology has been unable to monitor dust in the workplace over a continuous period in real-time, or properly understand the size and profile of the dust particles workers are being exposed to. 

A lack of continuous, real-time monitoring means that operatives have no idea what levels of dust they are being exposed to until after it has occurred. 

One potential safety solution is to run dust suppression systems 24/7 – but from an operational stand-point this isn’t realistic or cost-effective.

The flaws of current continuous monitoring

There are existing devices that are considered to provide continuous dust monitoring, but only in the sense they are continuously present in the environment they are monitoring. The crucial missing element here is applying real-time insight to this approach.

The inability to combine continuous monitoring with real-time insight means there is no way of accurately identifying when the majority of dust was generated. Dust particles are captured within a device on filter paper, which is then sent off to an external laboratory to be analysed. How can this delayed response time provide adequate protection to the workers?

There is also another limitation to consider – because these continuous devices rely on pumps, filters and moving parts to operate, they become clogged and require regular and ongoing maintenance from engineers. The devices are prone to failure, which not only adds to the total cost of ownership and inefficiency of the device, but also the inaccuracy of the recordings being produced.

Glyn Jones, CEO, Trolex
Glyn Jones, CEO, Trolex

The flaws of current real-time monitoring

Real-time dust monitors typically require an engineer to be on site and take a reading to record the level of dust at that specific moment in time.

This is a snap shot instance in time and can be highly inaccurate in reflecting what the actual working environment is like. This method also comes into question when readings are taken during off-peak working hours, when the presence of dust is much lower than when the area is active. 

The risk here is that because the levels of dust are being recorded as being lower than in practice, suppression systems are not being deployed when they should be to provide adequate protection to workers. 

What is the solution?

The introduction of high quality and practically obtainable laser technology has enabled devices and techniques, only previously available in expensive laboratory instruments, to be used and developed for harsh and hazardous environments.

Using lab-grade laser technology coupled with the latest optical particle counting technology is helping operations accurately monitor dust in the workplace – therefore providing greater protection to their operatives.

These robust, state of the art devices are – for the first time – able to provide real-time, continuous and accurate profiling of dust particles in harsh and hazardous environments. 

By providing a second-by-second picture of dusts levels and identifying how these levels change during the day, operators can finally plan effective suppression systems.

The use of this technology will have a fundamental positive impact to the long-term health of operatives working in some of the most harsh and hazardous environments in the world.

About the author:

Glyn Jones is CEO of Trolex, the Manchester-based sensing system company. He has been with the company for 10 years, having earlier served in a variety of senior roles in media and industrial sector companies.


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