Most of us are not exposed to toxic chemicals or hazardous materials in our day-to-day jobs. Nonetheless, ASG is committed to making the world a safer place for everybody, which means looking to those who are at high risk for potential hazards. ASG takes into account a series of concerns: from hazardous material facilities to geographic locations and populations vulnerable to natural disasters because we believe all people deserve to live safe and healthy lives.
In this blog we focus on a specific hazardous material that is found in certain workplaces and can have serious effects on workers: hexavalent chromium.
What is Hexavalent Chromium and Why Should I Care?
Hexavalent chromium exists in the +6-oxidation state of the chromium element. Unfortunately, chromium in this state is strongly associated with cancers such as lung cancer and cancer of the nasal passages/nose. On an acute basis, exposure to hexavalent chromium can cause asthma, damage to the skin, and damage to the nasal area. There are many ways one can be exposed to hexavalent chromium. Typically, exposure occurs through the inhalation of dusts, mists, or fumes containing the hazardous material. Chromium metal is typically added to alloy steel due to its hardenability and corrosion resistance but can also be found in pigments such as dyes, paints, inks, and plastics. Furthermore, chromium is known to be added to primers and other surface coatings. Exposure to liquid forms of hexavalent chromium through skin or eye contact is also a serious threat. It is essential that workers know when they might be exposed to hexavalent chromium and how they can protect themselves from the serious, long-term damage.
Where Do Workers Encounter Hexavalent Chromium?
The most common industry associated with hexavalent chromium is the welding industry. Chromium is commonly found in stainless steel as well as other metal products due to its anti-corrosive properties. Even if chromium is not listed on the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for the metal being welded on, it is always safer to assume that the product contains chromium. When these metals are heated up during the welding process, airborne hexavalent chromium can be released.
Additionally, hexavalent chromium can be found in the paints, primers, or other surface coatings that are found on these metals. Workers using spray paints or chrome plating baths should also be aware that hexavalent chromium is being released into the air. OSHA provides a chemical exposure database where workers can learn more about their jobs and exposure risks to hexavalent chromium.
Best Practices for Working with Hexavalent Chromium:
However, working with hexavalent chromium does not necessarily have to come with these risks. Below is a list of best practices to prevent exposure to hexavalent chromium while working with the substance:
- The most common form of controlling exposure to hexavalent chromium in the welding industry is to utilize local exhaust ventilation. With local exhaust ventilation, the contaminant is pulled through an exhaust hose and eventually deposited it into a safe emission device. When relying on local exhaust ventilation, ensure that the exhaust hose is as close to the welding point as possible to effectively capture the most fumes.
- Welders also have the option of altering their processes. Many welders use the stick welding process, which uses a consumable electrode to create the weld. Instead, welders ought to use Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) welding, which uses a non-consumable electrode that has been shown to reduce exposure to hexavalent chromium.
- Aside from using local exhaust ventilation and altering methodology, there are other easy and effective methods to minimize exposure to hexavalent chromium. One of the best methods is utilizing a respirator, which covers the nose and mouth of the worker and filters the air while grinding or performing other tasks that create dusts that contain hexavalent chromium. The respirator will filter out the hexavalent chromium so that the worker does not inhale the hazardous material.
- Do not eat, drink, or smoke in an area where there is hexavalent chromium. Hexavalent chromium particles can contaminate the hands, and subsequently become ingested through these acts. To ensure that there is no ingestion of hexavalent chromium during breaks, workers should always wash their hands thoroughly before eating, drinking, or smoking.
- Wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) such as goggles, gloves, or coveralls where skin or eye contact with hexavalent chromium is present or likely to be present. When leaving the area, remove all PPE after the work is completed. Do not wear or take any PPE home. Be sure to dispose of or clean all PPE properly.
- Housekeeping is an essential function of keeping your work area free from hexavalent chromium. All surfaces should be maintained as free as practicable of accumulations of hexavalent chromium. In order to do this, ensure all spills or releases of material containing hexavalent chromium are cleaned up properly. To best clean up these spills, use a HEPA-filter vacuum or wet methods. These practices will minimize dust exposure. When handling waste, scrap, debris, and any other materials contaminated with hexavalent chromium, ensure that they are disposed of in sealed, impermeable bags.
Ready to make sure that you are protected from hexavalent chromium?
Alliance Solutions Group (ASG) has extensive experience with assessing work practices, establishing housekeeping plans, and sampling for various commodities to include hexavalent chromium. In our 16 years of business, ASG has conducted over 15,000 workplace audits and built a solid understanding of the challenges that our customers are facing in each sector. To learn more about ASG’s assessment process, and how you can protect yourself or your employees from preventable injuries and illnesses, visit https://www.asg-inc.org/.