Where does Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) fit into the nuclear supply chain?

by | Nuclear

Dust and fume extraction experts and Members of the Nuclear Industry Association McCarthy Environmental talks about its role in the nuclear supply chain – compliance, safety in the workplace and how to protect workers’ health and wellbeing …

So, where does Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) fit into this picture?

Health, safety, quality and environmental impact – these are the fundamental factors which form the foundations of the nuclear sector supply chain.

With many and varying disciplines across manufacturing, engineering and construction sectors, we have to give attention to any impact that our operations or processes may have on the environment and be seen to be taking preventative measures to counter these. As part of the underlying health & safety remit, we must also constantly evaluate the potential impact that these operations and processes may have on the workplace environment and ultimately, on workers’ wellbeing and long-term health.

There are various risks and hazards which result from the diverse range of operations carried out by the supply chain.

For example, we use a lot of stainless steel in the nuclear sector; fumes and dust arising from welding and cutting stainless steel and other chromium-based metals are highly toxic and considered as carcinogenic. Also, workers exposed to coolants and lubricants used during machining processes are at risk of developing respiratory problems or skin disorders.

Under HSE and COSHH guidelines, we have to be seen to be taking measures to prevent or control workers’ exposure to substances which are classed as hazardous to health and maintain these to a level which is as low as reasonably practical. The COSHH Hierarchy of Control highlights an employer’s obligations and lays out the process which should be followed to prevent or reduce risk of exposure.

Our first priority is to establish if processes and/or materials used can be changed to eliminate or reduce the initial risk of exposure. Following this, we look at implementing appropriate engineering controls, i.e. the processes and systems which manage a worker’s exposure at source. This will normally include some form of workplace ventilation system.

Engineering controls need to be adequate and would include:

  • Looking at where we can totally enclose any process and handling systems
  • Changing the plant or process to keep production of hazardous fumes, dusts or vapours to a minimum or contained within plant to limit possible contamination area
  • Considering any changes to working methods which may minimise the release of fumes to reduce exposure and limit the number of workers that could potentially be exposed
  • Implementing supporting workplace ventilation and filtration systems that can control any substances released from a process, ie extraction and Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) systems

So, what is LEV?

A LEV system will control a range of contaminants, including welding fumes, dusts, oil mist, aerosols, gases and vapours within the working environment and is a very effective way to prevent or reduce exposure to hazardous substances.

A good, well designed LEV system will collect the contaminated air from the working environment, contain contaminants and clean or filter the air to remove the contaminant, with the system required being dictated by the nature of the hazardous substance.

Any contaminant which is not captured at source will provide exposure to other workers within the general environment, requiring additional complimentary systems which will support LEV by capturing and filtering contaminants outside of the LEV capture zone.

What do you need to consider for specification of the right LEV system solution?

For an LEV system to be effective, it is imperative the system be correctly specified and designed. You will need to describe the process, the containment required, sources to be controlled and exposure benchmarks which classify the hazard of the emitted material, along with information on other processes and activities that occur adjacent to the process the LEV system will control. At this point you may need to take advice from a specialist concerning the type of LEV system to be used, its effectiveness at controlling exposure and of course, costs involved.

You should require the LEV system to be easy to use, check, maintain and clean, whilst also taking account of any other risks, e.g. accessibility and potential for contamination from waste removal or filter changing.

Developing the LEV system:

Once a specification is established, the design team would then look to carry out a benchmarking exercise to assess the effectiveness of a proposed LEV system and its capability of controlling exposure. This will include an exposure benchmark, ie the level of exposure that may result once the control is in place. As part of this, it may be necessary to carry out air quality testing and exposure monitoring to establish current levels and the point for a LEV system designer to work from. Also, for an employee to sufficiently carry out their obligations to use the implemented system efficiently, operator training should be provided as part of the commissioning process.

Ideally, look for a model which can provide you with a full-service partnership incorporating consultancy, design, installation, commissioning, operator training and ongoing systems testing.

At McCarthy Environmental our role is to support and work with businesses within the nuclear supply chain to ensure compliance, safety in the workplace and to protect workers’ health and wellbeing by providing expertise, products and effective systems that exceed health & safety legislation within demanding environments.

Should you wish to discuss in greater detail or have any questions, please contact Andy here.