Hazard Watch: Analysis of trace heavy metals exposed in the workplace

Exposure to trace metals in the workplace can have a detrimental effect on a workforce. Our next Hazard Watch explores the steps that can be taken by employers to prevent and mitigate this.



What are heavy metals?

Metals occurring in nature that have a generally high density, atomic weight or numbers are known as heavy metals. There are around 40 heavy metals or metallic elements that have a relatively high density compared to water. They occur naturally and can be found throughout the earth’s crust, however activities such as mining and industrial production, smelting operations and domestic and agricultural use, have contributed to more human and environmental exposure to them.

lab heavy metals

Do you know the risks from exposure to heavy metals?

Heavy metals in low concentrations are essential to the human body and helpful to our metabolism. However, higher concentrations are toxic and harmful as well and over exposure to these compounds can be detrimental to our health.

Metals such as (particularly chrome VI), iron, nickel, and cadmium, are also known as respiratory sensitisers. They can cause a change in people’s airways, causing an allergic reaction known as occupational asthma. These compounds can also enter the body through breathing in dust fumes or mists as well as through skin contact. The short-term effects of this exposure include skin and eye irritation, but prolonged exposure can cause inflation in the lungs and kidney damage as well as various cancers. This is very common amongst construction workers and those in the metal welding and electroplating industries.  

Protecting your employees from exposure to heavy metals

Every employer has a responsibility to ensure their employees are protected in the workplace and appropriate control measures are implemented.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Regulation 9 of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) both state that Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) systems must be monitored and maintained to ensure they are in good working order.

COSHH regulations also require employers to manage substances which can be harmful to human health, including heavy metals. An assessment should be carried out for the purpose of identifying hazardous substances present in the workplace, whether the precautions you are taking are acceptable, and what control measures are in place.

Our expertise in heavy metal analysis

RPS provides UKAS accredited analysis, as well as the provision of suitable media specifically for potential exposure to metals in the workplace. It has been noted by the HSE and the Surface Engineering Association (SEA) that there was a reduction in exposure from various metals for workers when regular biological monitoring is performed along with air monitoring.

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