The main electroplating hazards and the hierarchy of controls.
Following two blog articles on the basics of electroplating process, its benefits, and its many applications, we would like to bring into light the hazards related to this plating process.
Electroplating can be considered a complex process and is associated with different types of hazards, such as chemical, electrical, plant and noise.
The most common hazard for electroplating workers is exposure to chemicals in various forms (vapors, dusts, solutions, solvents, waste, etc.), which imposes the risk of short- and long-term health issues. Specifically, exposure to chemicals may take place during:
Electrical equipment is used in the electroplating process, imposing additional hazards. In particular, the following can be considered common electrical hazards:
This type of hazards is common in industrial processes, as it refers to the equipment, machinery and tools used in the plant, and their usage.
Another common type of hazard in industrial processes is noise. Specifically, areas of the electroplating workshop, such as the buffing and grinding area, might generate noise that exceeds the exposure standards, and therefore, impose an additional hazard to the workers.
Proper risk management is essential to ensure that hazards are identified and properly addressed, according to the hierarchy of control, aiming to ensure the health and safety of workers. But what does hierarchy of control mean?
Figure 1: Hierarchy of control measures
The ranking of available control measures based on the level of effectiveness (protection and reliability) composed the hierarchy of control. The most effective control measure is the elimination of the hazard and associated risk. In the electroplating case, this would mean to stop using completely a toxic chemical, using a different process. For example, one of the two technologies of the FreeMe project, the sprayable composite resins process, will completely eliminate the usage of the toxic hexavalent chromium from the etching step of the plating on plastics process. As a result, the exposure risk will be eliminated, and workers would be protected.
In most cases, however, this is not reasonably practicable, and the goal is to minimize the risk. This can be achieved by substituting the hazard source by a safer alternative, and the implementation of engineering controls that will isolate workers from the hazard source. For instance, the second technology developed within the FreeMe project, aims to substitute the toxic hexavalent chromium from the surface etching by a safer chemical. Regarding the available engineering controls, there is a variety of different aspects to be considered, based on the nature of the hazardous process. These controls may include automated work processes or minimum user input for the control, isolating the work area by enclosures on plating tanks, exhaust ventilation, among others.
If the above-mentioned controls have been applied and the risk remains, administrative controls may be applied as reasonably practicable. The administrative controls may be applied on the work practices, reducing the exposure of the workers to hazards by shift rotation, limiting access to hazardous areas, including training on workplace procedures. To minimize any remaining risk, suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) shall be used, including goggles, gloves, respirators, face splash protection, waterproof apron and footwear, hearing protection, etc. PPE shall be used consistently and correctly but shall not be relied upon when there are other more effective control options available.