Fact Or Fiction | What does ‘clean’ actually mean?

• Clean Air is a luxury | FICTION

Although there is no specific Human Rights Act article which relates to the provision of clean air, many campaigners are arguing that there should be.  Currently, the Clean Air Bill is going through Parliament in the UK which proposes that everyone has the right to breathe clean air, and the Human Rights Act is to be interpreted accordingly. 

Supporters – both in the UK and across the globe – believe that the quality of indoor air requires the same degree of consideration, and subsequent regulation, as that of outdoor air. 

In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) which provides the basis for standards in environmental quality and air quality guidelines worldwide, states that more than two million premature deaths every year can be attributed to outdoor and indoor air pollution, despite clean air being considered as one of the most basic requirements of human health and wellbeing.

• Poor indoor air quality can cause long-term health problems | FACT

Whilst the dangers of outdoor pollution to our health are well-known, well-documented (and subsequently more regulated), the impact of indoor pollutants is far less publicised.  But, in actual fact exposure to interior contaminants can be equally, if not more, hazardous to health. 

The California Air Resources Board in a comprehensive report estimates that indoor levels of pollution are between 25-62% greater than those on the outside, whilst the World Health Organisation cites air pollution in general as the largest single environmental risk to human health.

Indoor air pollution is linked to a variety of health conditions, both long and short term.  These range from irritation of the skin, headaches, frequent colds and sore throats, to eye irritation, memory lapses, and dizziness. 

In more severe cases, and where the individual has been exposed to the unclean air for a period of time, health issues such as asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, lung disease, and cancer can result – and it’s more likely that the damage is irreparable.

• There are no rules regarding levels of indoor pollution | FICTION

Rules and laws naturally differ depending on your country of residence, but we’ve highlighted just a couple of key regulations governing the monitoring and control of potentially unsafe substances produced via processes involved in manufacturing or engineering.

In the UK, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations (2002) require employers to ‘control’ any substances in their place of work which have the potential to be a health hazard.  These substances can take the form of fumes, mists, vapours, dust, and/or chemicals and can affect an individual by being inhaled, swallowed, absorbed, or simply by being in contact with their skin.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the USA was developed to ensure safe and healthy working conditions by setting, and enforcing, working condition standards and by providing training and education. 

All manufacturing and engineering plants are obliged to adhere to OSHA’s General Duty Clause, which states that every employer will ‘furnish to each of his employees … a place of employment which [is] free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to … employees’

• Employers aren’t liable for unclean air| FICTION

Despite the global regulatory arena being a little loose and inconsistent when ‘clean air’ is concerned, organisations can, and absolutely have been, punished in the past for failing to protect their employees’ health and wellbeing.

A UK-based manufacturer was fined £800,000 in 2016 for failing to protect the health of its employees, with three members of staff developing debilitating lung conditions after years of exposure to oil mist.  Whilst in America, Pfizer – one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies – agreed to pay $975,000 following allegations that it violated the Clean Air Act at its former manufacturing facility in Groton, Connecticut.   

With a sharper focus on air pollution and the cleanliness of workplace air, it’s only a matter of time before more and more employees, and their employers, acknowledge not only the importance of providing staff with a healthy environment in which to work – but the very costly repercussions of failing to do so.

• Working conditions are now cleaner than they used to be | FICTION

With the development of technology and the subsequent evolution of manufacturing and engineering practices and processes, it is a common assumption that workplaces are now much cleaner and less polluted than they have ever been.  But, in actual fact, this is far from the truth. 

The use of higher coolant pressures at faster speeds produces a significant amount of submicron particles which are not only visible in the air but can be smelt and even tasted. This resultant oil mist can be ingested, inhaled, and absorbed by workers, causing a wealth of both short-term and longer-term health conditions if not effectively removed from the air.

• Oil mist and smoke particles can be as small as viruses | FACT

The air pollutants caused by common manufacturing processes such as grinding, casting and milling include oil mist, dust, and fumes.  The particles produced are called particulate matter (PM) and, whilst some are large enough to be seen by the naked eye and are more likely to be ingested via the nose and mouth, many others are so tiny that they’re completely invisible. 

The smallest particles are called PM2.5 – with around 19million of these in the form of oil smoke particles or 153,000 oil mist particles fitting into a 1 litre bottle.  The ultra-fineness of these particles makes them extremely harmful to an individual due to their highly permeable nature, which can see them enter the tissue lining – causing serious health issues such as respiratory illness and cancers.

• Providing Clean Air will cost a business money | FICTION

We’ve already highlighted the impact that poor quality air within a place of work can have on an individual’s short and long-term health, and this can have devastating consequences for any business. 

A 2017 report by VitalityHealth delivered in partnership with the University of Cambridge, RAND Europe and Mercer, states that employers in Britain are losing on average 27.5 days of productive time per employee every year due to both absenteeism and underperformance as a result of ill-health (presenteeism). In monetary terms, the cost of this lost productivity to the UK economy as a whole is £73 billion a year.

Not only can a clean working environment benefit organisations by ensuring healthier, more engaged, and more productive employees, but the use of filter systems within the workplace can also contribute to significant financial savings through reduced energy and coolant purchase costs.  

And, in terms of efficiencies, many modern filters can operate for between 1,000 and 2,000 hours without the need for maintenance, with some systems proven to operate for over 30 years.

With most filtration systems being relatively inexpensive to purchase when compared with the overall costs of investing in new machine tools, and taking into account the very real impact that clean air can have on employees’ health and their subsequent productivity, using an effective extraction system is a small price to pay for the wide ranging benefits it will bring.