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Fume Extraction - Protecting the health of electronics technicians

Why Do We Need Fume Extraction?

fume-extraction-healthLocal and international health and safety legislation (such as COSHH, NIOSHH, OSHA etc) states that it is the employer’s responsibility to protect the health, welfare and safety of their employees. Failure to do so can result in expensive legal action, potential fines and poor employee relations.

The Need for Fume Extraction

Many types of dust and fume are hazardous to health if inhaled. People can become permanently sensitised to fumes which means that continued exposure, even to very small amounts of fume, may cause asthma attacks or other respiratory diseases. A high-performance fume extraction system will help to:

  • Protect employee health
  • Ensure compliance with Health & Safety regulations such as OSHA, NIOSH C.O.S.H.H, MAK, AFNOR, or equivalent
  • Increase production speeds
  • Reduce complaints by operator’s due to odours, dust and vapours
  • Avoid possible cost of health compensation claims
  • Reduce the cost & time to cleaning laser lenses, conveyors, guarding, soldering machines and other equipment
  • Reduce product contamination
  • Provide a better working environment
  • Reduce downtime

Which Extraction System?

These are usually two types of extraction system available:

  • External - pump contaminated air into the environment outside the building
  • Internal - at source capture and filtration or LEV (local exhaust ventilation) system

In our opinion, the best system to use is an LEV system such as a Purex. These capture fumes at the source thereby preventing fumes escaping into the workplace. They also filter hazardous particles and gasses which would otherwise be pumped into the outside environment causing pollution.

Using an internal filter system also avoids issues with environmental regulations and potential complaints from neighbouring businesses about fumes and odours. Purex LEV systems sit next to the process and the extraction rate can be altered precisely to suit the application. Purex machines are also easy to move if the process moves.

LEV systems have additional benefits over external exhaust systems.

Examples of Hazardous Fumes

Processes that create hazardous dust and fume

Many industrial processes can generate harmful dust and fume. Essentially any operation where a material is cut, marked or physically altered in any way has the potential to produce harmful materials.
Some common processes which produce harmful fumes:

  • Laser & Inkjet Coding
  • Laser Engraving
  • Printing
  • Hand & Machine Soldering
  • Pharmaceutical Manufacture
  • Laboratory & Cleanroom Work

Soldering - An example of a hazardous process

HSE statistics (2004/05) showing incidence rates of occupational asthma reported by chest physicians puts rosin based solder flux fume in the top ten.

Occupational asthma is an allergic reaction that can occur in some people when they are exposed to certain substances in the workplace, for example solder fume. These substances are called 'respiratory sensitisers' or asthmagens. They can cause a change in people’s airways, known as the 'hypersensitive state'. Not everyone who becomes sensitised goes on to get asthma. But once the lungs become hypersensitive, further exposure to the substance, even at quite low levels, may trigger an attack.

Early symptoms from fume exposure can include:

  • Watering, prickly eyes
  • Running or blocked nose
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing, wheezing, tight chest and breathlessness

Rosin based solder flux fume is generated when rosin based solder flux is heated. During hand soldering the fume rises vertically on thermal currents created by the heat of the iron, entering the breathing zone of the worker as they lean over their work. The quantity of fume emitted will depend on many variables including:

  • The rosin content
  • The solder temperature, and
  • The size, spread and number of joints being worked

Assuming substitution is not possible and the lowest rosin content solder flux for the job has been selected the main emphasis is to optimise the solder temperature and to provide effective fume extraction. Solder machines should always be enclosed and extracted. Whilst for hand soldering the extraction control solutions will depend on:

  • The soldering temperature
  • The soldering times
  • The size, spread and number of joints being worked
  • The shape of the workpiece
  • The size of the work area, and
  • The number of people soldering per period

    Rosin based solder flux fume (RBSFF) is a hazardous substance under COSHH 2002 (as amended) and has been assigned both a “sen” notation and a “skin” notation indicating it can cause both occupational asthma and skin sensitisation. RBSFF has Work Place Exposure Limits (WELs) of:
  • 0.05 mg/m3 – 8 Hr time weighed average (full shift exposure averaged over eight hours); and
  • 0.15 mg/m3 – 15-minute TWA (15-minute reference period)

fume-extraction

Example Court Case

Solderer develops asthma at large manufacturers in Gloucester - from the UK HSE

An employee developed occupational asthma after working for a large multi-national company in Gloucester. He was employed between 1995 and 2004 as a solderer and was exposed to rosin based (colophony) solder fume during his career.

His health was deteriorating from 1999 onwards, and was taking time off work due to breathing difficulties. The company did not have adequate control measures in place and failed to install fume extraction equipment to remove rosin based fumes from the workroom air or from the breathing zones of its solderers.

The company did not substitute the rosin based solder with rosin free solder until December 2003, despite an assessment having identified the need to in 1999. Employees, including the asthma suffer were not placed under a health surveillance scheme at any time.

Because of action taken by HSE the company was fined £100,000 with £30,000 costs. This attracted local and national media attention.

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