RR460 - Trends in inhalation exposure Mid 1980s till present

Although occupational exposure levels are likely to have changed over time, relatively few studies have been conducted to investigate the long-term changes in exposure. Data sets held by the collaborators and the National Exposure DataBase (NEDB) were reviewed to investigate the long-term changes in inhalation exposure to toluene, wood dust, flour dust, respirable dust and quartz exposure in quarries, and process dust and fume exposure in the rubber manufacturing industry from the mid 1980s onwards. Follow-up sampling measurements were also obtained in 28 companies where exposure measurements of toluene, wood dust or respirable dust and quartz had been collected over 10 years ago. During these visits employees were interviewed to identify factors that could have resulted in changes in exposure between surveys.

Overall, downward trends in exposure were observed for all the substances analysed except for flour dust. Interviews with company personnel suggested that legislation, both health and safety related and environmental, had a positive impact on reducing exposures, along with improvements in process equipment and control technology as well as changes in market forces. The study also demonstrates the importance of continuing to collect good quality exposure data so that future trends in exposure can be demonstrated.

This report and the work it describes were funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its contents, including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect HSE policy.

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Updated 2021-04-20