Ceramic industry: occupational health risks to the respiratory system

rischi comparto ceramica

Nowadays, the ceramic industry, employs a significant number of workers in many countries. This is, however, a sector not invulnerable to occupational health risks. Hereunder find some of the possible hazards and how to prevent them, in particular, those related to the respiratory system.

Occupational health risks in the ceramic industry

Innovation in the ceramic industry and the use of more advanced technologies have increased the automation of ceramics processing thereby noticeable reducing worker risks.

Risks may be subdivided into:

  • safety risks related to the use of machines and equipment;
  • hygienic-environmental risks related to the presence of dust, fumes, noise;
  • organizational risks related to inappropriate working positions or intense work rhythms.

A lot has been done to protect workers’ respiratory system over the last few years, but a significant risk element still remains.

The highest risk comes from the possible inhalation and ingestion of dust and gases containing free crystalline silica dust or lead compounds. Dust is generated at all stages of the production process: from storage to handling, and from manufacture to packaging. Raw materials are, in fact, usually stored outdoors in areas not protected from wind erosion thus leading to widespread dust dispersion. Similarly, during the handling and raw material processing stages, fugitive dust emissions occur which are potentially harmful to the workers present in the area. High-risk areas are therefore, the ones where raw materials are discharged from silos, those adjacent to conveyor belts and the kiln filling areas.

How to protect the respiratory system effectively

Respiratory protection for workers in the ceramics industry is partly entrusted to engineering controls as the primary means to control air contaminants while respiratory protective devices are required when effective engineering controls are not feasible.

The engineering controls to be implemented by employers during ceramic processing are the use of vacuum hoods positioned at the load/discharge points for the localized suction of dangerous particles and an effective system of casings for conveyor belts and scales. With regard to personal protection, workers are to be provided with respiratory protective devices (RPD) that are both applicable and suitable for the purpose intended.

Among the modern and more advanced RPD on the market for risk protection in the ceramic industry, are  powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs)  which provide workers with filtered, breathable air. PAPRs, usually helmets or full-face masks, protects the entire facial area while battery powered blower units equipped with applicable filters supply clean air through a breathing tube directly to the inside of the facepiece, keeping the visor demisted in this manner. The blower units and batteries are usually carried on a belt worn at the waist. Exhaled and any excess air is expelled through specific exhalation valves. After having assessed respiratory hazards in the work place, respiratory protective devices which are approved to current standards and which are to be used in compliance with the conditions of their certification are to be selected.