Pioneering result in reducing exposure to carcinogenic substances in steel plant

‘Standard solutions are not our thing’

A steel manufacturer in the Netherlands had a problem. Employees of certain departments were being exposed to high concentrations of PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) by breathing them in. To determine the cause, the company called in Imbema. Thanks to the close collaboration between the customer, supplier and the manufacturer, the PAH concentrations have been reduced to normal levels – a pioneering result. Our respiratory protection specialist Jan Willem de Winter and sector manager Eric van Leeuwen explain what approach we used to devise this solution.

Jan Willem de Winter (left) and Eric van Leeuwen.

How did you tackle this problem?

De Winter: We worked with the company’s safety experts and the occupational health and safety service to select a respiratory protection system that protects, as well as being safe and comfortable.

But the provision of improved respiratory protection is not pioneering is it?

De Winter: No, several companies are able to do this. The only difference here is that we go that one step further and look at how the product is being used. By training everyone involved and taking time for research, requirements and changes, we created a solution whereby the actual exposure now is no different to what you might experience outside of the company.

Van Leeuwen: How the respiratory protective equipment is being used on the job is crucial for the end result. Our research has shown that in everyday usage, employees were removing their respiratory protective equipment to talk to each other, thereby exposing themselves to hazardous substances. So we developed a unique solution in conjunction with users and the manufacturer Sundström Safety.

What is the solution like?

De Winter: Microphones are fitted in all masks of the respiratory protective system and linked to ear protectors with transmitter receivers. Users are now able to communicate without removing their masks. A campaign incorporating training and awareness taught them to use their respiratory protective equipment more effectively.

What makes this case so special?

Van Leeuwen: We have the successful collaboration to thank for the result. Users and our manufacturer have worked together with our specialists to develop solutions. In conversations with end users, we regularly come to the conclusion that the solution is anything but a standard product. Then we develop new solutions or existing products are developed further – all whilst providing our service and support.

Why are safe working practices a particular focus for Imbema?

Van Leeuwen: You have to be careful with employees, as they form the basis of any company. A healthy employee will feel better, be absent less frequently and be more productive than an employee who is in poor health. We attach a great deal of importance to safety in the services we provide. Our knowledge of products and processes on the job enables us to advise on safe working practices and offer co-creation.

De Winter: Everyone knows victims of an unhealthy or unsafe workplace and the suffering this causes them, but with the right investments, you can create a workplace where employees feel safe and at ease.

What is your advice for companies that want a safer workplace?

Van Leeuwen: See how people work within your organisation. How do employees take care of their own safety? The employer needs to remove any obstacles. If a mask is too heavy to wear, for example, an employee will use it as little as possible, so a lighter mask should be provided. The same applies to replacing filters: the easier it is, the more dedicated people will be to swapping the filters.

De Winter adds: Take expert advice. Make a choice together based on practical experiences.

This interview was also published in the December 2018 edition of the Europoort Kringen magazine.

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