Hazard Watch: Monitoring Rubber Fumes in the workplace

For the next article in our Hazard Watch series that profiles hazardous substances in the workplace, we would like to focus on Rubber Fumes. As an employer, it’s critical to know where they can be found, their dangers to health and how to monitor them and protect workers from exposure.

What is rubber fume and why should we monitor it?

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) define rubber fume as "fume evolved in the mixing, milling and blending of natural rubber or synthetic elastomers, or of natural rubber and synthetic polymers combined with chemicals, and in the processes which convert the resultant blends into finished products”. Rubber fumes are a complex mixture of chemicals released during the processing of rubber, which if inhaled can be hazardous to health.

Rubber fume is therefore a common hazard in many workplaces, and it can cause serious health problems if not managed properly.

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What happens when one is exposed to rubber fumes?

Exposure to rubber fumes can cause irritation and inflammation of the eyes, nose, and workers who inhale rubber fumes over a long period may experience coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and asthma. Because of the health risk associated with rubber fume exposure, the HSE have assigned rubber fume a long-term exposure limit (8-hr TWA reference period) of 0.6 mg.m3.

Rubber fume (measured as a cyclohexane-soluble material) in the air can be determined using the MDHS method 47/3. This method involves taking a sample of the air in the workplace by using a pump to draw air through a washed GFA filter at 2L/min. This is conducted until the minimum recommended sample volume of 500L is reached and subsequently analysing the filter for rubber fume content. The results of this analysis can then be used to determine the level of risk to workers and whether additional measures need to be taken to reduce exposure.

How can RPS help employers by preventing or limiting rubber fume exposure?

Exposure monitoring for rubber fumes can be a complex process and involves collection of personal samples and methodical laboratory analysis. Rubber manufacturers are expected to monitor air quality at factories on an annual basis and follow guidelines under the Control of Substances Harmful to Health (COSHH) 2002. At RPS we can provide all the necessary sampling media and analysis to determine the rubber fume content of an air sample. We can then directly compare against the current workplace exposure limits so that employers can take measurable steps to reduce exposure and keep their workers safe.

For advice on rubber fume sampling or a quotation for sampling media and analysis, please contact a dedicated member of our sales team.

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