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Cutting VOC emissions: Why the shop-floor offers new ways to drive LEAN Manufacturing

Chemicals, solvents, dust, gaseous pollution and particulates are all part and parcel of life in manufacturing environments.

A typical facility will use up to five tons of solvent a year, exposing countless workers to dangerous toxic chemicals.

These solvents include paint and lacquer thinners, mineral spirits, Turpentine, and hazardous or noxious products such as MEK, IPA and Acetone.

Dusts might include metal or wood dust, while emissions containing gaseous pollutants include ozone, oxides of nitrogen and carbon monoxide.

By no means exhaustive, this gives an indication of the challenge that must be faced if real improvements are to be made to worker safety, productivity and cost savings.
Exposure to inhalants causes a number of effects, including chronic respiratory problems and fatigue – all of which can have a detrimental effect on completing a task.

Some 46% of industrial workers are exposed to at least one chemical in their daily work; 21.6% are exposed to at least three*.

Exposure to dangerous substances contributes significantly to the 350 million working days lost through occupational ill-health and the suffering of over 7 million victims of occupational illnesses**.

Industrial supplies and PPE supplier Kimberly-Clark Professional* has identified that VOC emissions can be reduced, safety enhanced, and the benefits of LEAN manufacturing achieved by better managing solvent usage.

For many manufacturers and production activities in Europe there is high level of highly-qualified workforce. And that there poses a challenge in itself for solvent use and management.

The European workforce is aging; when the current generation goes, a great deal of knowledge about solvent use will go as well.

With solvents it is vital to understand risks related to product, and how best to use them for a particular task. There can be no substitute for experience nor should the level of skill required be underestimated.

There is also a growing number of young people are entering working life with asthma, allergy or hypersensitivity problems.

Growing understanding of VOC emissions raises the concern that they not be adequately protected by existing preventive measures.

Reducing the overall consumption of solvents and making their dispensing more efficient can help safeguard the health of vulnerable young workers.

Another source of concerns is the outsourcing of maintenance which can mean that staff are exposed to new and unfamiliar hazards every time they carry out a job.
Underpinning all of this is the need for on-going training, to increase worker understanding and improve their skills and knowledge.

With the right help, support and guidance, there is much that an individual can do to protect their own wellbeing while boosting productivity and profitability.

Meanwhile, there are some tips for steps which can be taken immediately to minimise risk, in line with the principles of Lean Manufacturing.

Users themselves are the best source of insight into their use of supplies and PPE – and that knowledge should be used.

So, go out on to the factory floor and see how your people do their jobs every day.

What can you do to minimise consumption and exposure to their emissions?

What supplies to do workers use and how do they use them? Do they take gloves off for certain tasks? Do the leave solvent dispensers open?

Simple changes or new procedures can soon become routine and can be documented to help new workers or those unfamiliar with a particular location or process.

Addressing these seemingly small details can easily result in a significant reduction of VOC Emissions.

Identifying hazardous area zones and equipment categories also helps workers use the correct PPE and supplies.

Zones can be classified 0, 1 and 2 on the basis of the frequency and duration of the occurrence of a dangerous atmosphere. In Zone 0 danger is present continuously or for long periods or frequently, in Zone 1 danger is occasional and in Zone 2 danger is rarer.

It is true that getting internal support for compliance can be an uphill struggle, and even the best- intentioned can find the topic slipping to the bottom of their agenda.
But by minimising the VOC emissions, it’s possible to significantly reduce waste and lost productivity. Thus the benefits of LEAN manufacturing can be achieved by better managing solvent usage.

There’s a stick as well as a carrot

Failure to deal with these issues can lead to large fines, increased insurance premiums and, potentially, plant closures.

Find out more at and or request a Waste & Hazard Walk to review all of the processes that involve VOC emissions and where improvements can be made.



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Sun. July 14th, 2024

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