Have you got DPM on your agenda?

Each year around the world potentially hundreds of thousands of workers are being exposed to diesel particulate matter (DPM), putting them at serious increased risk of lung and bladder cancer.

What is DPM exactly?

DPM (diesel particulate matter) are the small particles of microscopic material found in the exhaust of diesel engine emissions. In confined spaces, such as in tunnels and underground construction sites, workshops and mines, the risk of DPM-related health issues is significantly higher. It is also referred to as DEEE (diesel engine exhaust emissions).

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2012 declared DPM as carcinogenic to people and placed it in the same risk level as asbestos.

Read our beginners guide to DPM here

What the experts say

The Cancer Council states that up to 1.2 million Australian workers were exposed to diesel engine exhaust (DEE) in 2011, much of it containing solid but microscopic DPM material, which “increases your risk of developing long-term health problems” when exposed.

“This includes lung cancer and possibly bladder cancer,” the Cancer Council continues. “In Australia, diesel engine exhaust is the second most common cancer-causing agent (carcinogen) workers are exposed to, behind ultraviolet radiation exposure.”

The UK’s national standards body, British Standards Institution (BSI), goes further by stating that workers employed in the British construction sector account for a disproportionately higher percentage of cancer diagnoses annually than the general population.

“Construction has the largest burden of cancer amongst all industrial sectors, accounting for over 40% of occupational cancer registrations and cancer deaths,” BSI’s EMEA Product Champion for Occupational Health, Stephen Griffiths states in the Construction: Towards a safer, healthier industry White Paper.

“Past exposures in the construction sector is believed to have caused over 5000 occupational cancer cases and approximately 3700 deaths annually.

Why is DPM such a risk?

“Above-ground sites often enjoy good natural ventilation which dilutes the DPM levels, so they are less hazardous to the workforce, but in underground and confined spaces, dilution of DPM particles relies on the right amount of mechanical controls, such as ventilation. When these controls change or fail, workers in these environs are exposed to higher than expected levels of DPM. The lack of real-time information showing what the DPM levels are, means the operation cannot quickly respond, which exponentially increases the risk,” Pinssar Managing Director Francois Velge explained.

“Historically this has been the case – partly because there hasn’t been the technology available to provide the necessary continuous, real-time data within a harsh environment which enables actions and responses to a group one carcinogenic. You simply can’t manage what you don’t monitor.”

What can be done about it?

In response to this, Pinssar launched its continuous, real-time DPM monitoring system and the early adopters of the Pinssar system across Australia, Europe, the US, South Africa, South America and Canada are now enjoying the benefits by understanding their DPM loads and responding to the reported DPM trends.

Award-winning case studies like the one produced by the 57km cross-border section of the Lyon to Turin tunnel project managed by SMP4 in 2018, confirmed the effectiveness of this technology.

“Prior to 2017, there was only random sampling being undertaken. DPM levels at a site could be measured by taking gravimetric samples, sending them off for testing and waiting for the results,” Mr Velge added.

“The process could often take as long as three weeks. If there was a problem with DPM levels at a site, the workers could potentially be exposed for three weeks before the results were returned, and before action could be taken.

“One alternative was to use handheld technology but that only provided a random measure of DPM at a specific point in time.

“Thankfully, many in the sector acknowledge that this is not good enough and now technology is available to overcome these challenges and maximise worker safety.

“The health and safety of workers on site is mandated by the requirement for employers to provide a healthy and safe working environment, and not just the moral obligation of the employer. It is also necessary to maintain the reputation and safety record of the company and to ensure compliance with Workplace Health & Safety requirements as well as local standards.”

For more information around DPM solutions for your workplace, contact us.

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