Managing LEV systems – have things improved?

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Yesterday I went over to the Health and Safety laboratories for a “stakeholder meeting” with HSE/HSL to discuss a potential new one day course on the management of local exhaust ventilation (LEV)systems. It was a good meeting and I feel that HSE were willing to listen and take on board suggestions that I and other stakeholders made.

The idea for this course has come about because, despite the publication of the HSG258, HSE’s updated guidance on LEV, there remain major problems with their design and management. Working as a consultant I visit many organisations and there are usually significant problems. I have done any proper research on this, but from my own experience I still find that:

  • badly designed systems are still being installed. Suppliers are still failing to consider the nature of the process and the behaviour of the contaminants when designing extraction hoods
  • some companies are still not carrying out routine maintenance and testing
  • where testing is carried out it normally only comprises an annual “thorough examination and test” with no interim checks on condition or performance
  • the standard of the “thorough examination and test” is often poor. Many testing companies only carry out flow and pressure measurements and do not evaluate the effectiveness of the system at controlling the contaminants

It’s disappointing that in the two years since the publication of HSG258 these problems are still widespread. It’s difficult for consultants to make a difference. We can only make recommendations that we hope or clients will implement. Sadly, they often don’t. In-house hygienists may be more successful, but I think that they can still hit problems where the maintenance department look after the LEV systems. More training of engineers would be helpful here, and this is one of the target audiences for the proposed course. However we have to get over the hurdle of getting them to realise that they need to know more about LEV.

Although the occupational hygiene profession can exert some influence, we’re too small to have a major impact. Other groups were involved in the development of HSG258, including major manufacturers and ventilation testing companies. Unfortunately, I don’t think that they have bought into the principles set out in the guidance.

HSE did a lot of work developing the guidance, involving key stakeholders, and there was a lot of enthusiasm when it was launched in 2008. They even trained up general Inspectors on LEV and we have seen an increase in the number of improvement notices on COSHH Regulation 9, albeit a modest one. However, I feel that the campaign has lost momentum.

Further action is needed by HSE if the standards of LEV design and management are to improve. More work probably needs to be done to get suppliers and LEV testing companies to buy in to the good practice set out in the guidance. But the key to improving standards is more action by Inspectors when they’re out on their visits. The campaign needs to be re-launched and reinvigorated. Sadly, with the change in Government I’m not optimistic that this will happen.

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