Carcinogens in the Electroplating Industry
The Health and Safety Executive and the Surface Engineering
In the electroplating industry, hexavalent chromium and nickel
compounds are widely used as deposition plating metals. Both
are classified as skin and respiratory sensitising agents and
carcinogens; it is therefore important that exposure be reduced to
as low as reasonably practicable. An estimated 3000 workers are
potentially exposed to nickel and/or hexavalent chromium in the
electroplating industry, through inhalation of dusts, fumes and
mists; dermal absorption; or by ingestion as a result of hand to
mouth contamination. Consequently, efforts to reduce worker
exposure rely on good working practices, appropriate engineering
controls and suitable personal protective equipment, used
What We Did
Our study looked at whether repeat biological monitoring could
drive sustainable improvements in exposure control by raising
individual worker risk awareness and improving worker understanding
of exposure pathways.
Workers at forty-nine electroplating companies took part by
providing a post shift urine sample for three consecutive days, at
the start of the project, and at 6 and 12 month intervals, to
assess levels of exposure to chromium and nickel. Following the
results of the initial sampling, direct feedback and targeted
advice was provided.
Routes of exposure were also investigated by conducting hand
wash sampling, surface wipes and air sampling.
Many companies were found to be controlling exposures within the
current guidelines, although there were still areas for
improvement. In fifteen companies, more than half the workers
had elevated urinary nickel levels (the same was true for urinary
chromium levels in thirteen companies). After feedback
and guidance, worker exposures were significantly reduced in these
companies in the follow-up sampling rounds. Repeat biological
monitoring saw reductions in the range of 30 - 40% for nickel and
20 - 30% for chromium.
The graph below shows the reduction in urinary chromium levels
for a maintenance worker as a result of advice given after the
initial sampling, with follow-up values about one quarter of the
It was also determined that exposure to chromium and nickel in
the electroplating industry occurs via a combination of inhalation,
dermal absorption and ingestion routes.
The study demonstrated that biological monitoring is a very
effective tool for exposure assessment and that repeat testing can
effectively reduce levels of exposure to nickel and chromium due to
improved exposure control and personal risk awareness.
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