February 15, 2024

Acrobatics Equipment Manufacturing Workers Exposed to Metals, VOCs, NIOSH Finds

NIOSH recently released a health hazard evaluation (HHE) of an acrobatics equipment manufacturer. Workers at the facility requested the evaluation out of concern that substances they were exposed to during work tasks could cause respiratory and skin irritation. The NIOSH team visited the facility in February 2019 to observe production tasks, evaluate local exhaust ventilation systems, collect air samples, and interview employees. In its report, NIOSH concludes that the symptoms reported by employees could be worsened by materials and chemicals used in production processes. Employees were exposed to low levels of metals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and improved workplace practices could reduce potential exposures, NIOSH found.

At this workplace, employees manufactured custom equipment for acrobatic artists through tasks such as cutting, grinding, milling, drilling, and deburring aluminum pipe, as well as heating polyvinyl chloride (PVC) tubing, resin casting, soldering, welding, gluing, three-dimensional (3D) printing, and programming lighting displays. These processes used substances that included metalworking fluids, ultraviolet-cured glue, denatured alcohol, and soap. While at least one employee reported eye, nose, and throat irritation, the NIOSH team could not determine if these symptoms resulted from any specific exposure. However, air sampling revealed that employees were exposed to metals, particularly during welding, and to the VOCs isopropyl alcohol and ethanol during PVC skinning and 3D printing. NIOSH personnel also observed inconsistent personal protective equipment use among workers.

“By controlling exposures during the work process, the company and employees can possibly prevent further illness or a worsening of symptoms,” the report states.

The HHE report makes four recommendations for actions the employer could take to protect workers’ health. First, the employer could install controls to reduce employee exposures to metals and VOCs, such as creating an area specifically for welding tasks, with local exhaust ventilation to capture welding fumes at the source. This recommendation also encompasses implementation of a filter change-out schedule for portable air filtration systems and development of a voluntary respiratory protection program.

The report also recommends that the employer reduce exposures to metalworking fluids through engineering and administrative controls and use of PPE. The employer could encourage employees to discuss their work-related health concerns and exposures with their healthcare providers and address other health and safety issues identified during the evaluation, including poor ergonomic arrangements.

The HHE report may be downloaded as a PDF from NIOSH’s HHE report library.