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BOHS funds research on exposure to dust and endotoxin levels

in commercial composting facilities. The British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) is delighted to announce funding for a research project to investigate vehicle operators exposure to dust and endotoxin in the composting sector and to evaluate current control measures. The research is being carried out by the Cardiff School of Health Sciences at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC), and this funding has been made available through BOHSs Research Funding Programme which offers up to #20,000 annually to support research in occupational hygiene and its underlying sciences and technology.

Some 430 million tonnes of waste is produced annually in the UK, and stringent targets have been set to divert biodegradable waste from landfill which will result in the proliferation of commercial composting. The composting process actively promotes the growth of aerobic organisms known to be associated with adverse respiratory conditions, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulminary disease (COPD), toxic pneumonitis, organic dust toxic syndrome (ODTS), chronic bronchitis and reduced lung function.

To date, no safe levels of exposure have been established for organic dust exposure within the composting industry. Consequently, the effective use of control measures to reduce vehicle operator exposure is key to reducing the potential risk of occupational illness. The use of cab filtration systems as the only control measure is common across the industry. The concern is that if the filtration within the cabs is not operating effectively, the operators exposure levels may be high.

The proposed study complements work already being undertaken within Cardiffs School of Health Sciences, UWIC, from which it is evident that the current control measures adopted at composting facilities are highly variable, very little data exists regarding the air quality within vehicle cabs, work is needed to establish the impact that maintenance, cleaning and operator work practices could have on employee exposure levels, and furthermore, in order to establish practical guidance regarding maintenance and operation, the efficacy of cab filtration as the primary risk control measure needs to be evaluated in an operational setting.

The research findings will be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, such as BOHSs own Annals of Occupational Hygiene, and it is envisaged that this work will inform the development of some practical risk mitigation measures regarding vehicle cab filtration maintenance to maximise operating efficiency. It is hoped that it will also raise awareness and change working practices within the composting industry and beyond, especially in relation to the impact that poor practices have on operator exposure in this working environment.

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