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How much Containment is needed?

Once it has been decided that containment is needed, the question then arises “how much containment is needed?”. All chemical agents have an Occupational Exposure Limit Value (OEL) associated with it and these values can typically be found in the chemical agents Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). It is this OEL value that will determine the type of containment that is required on a particular step of the process.

The OEL value is the maximum permissible concentration of a chemical agent in the air at the workplace to which workers may be exposed, either in relation to an 8 hour (time weighted average (TWA) exposure) or a 15 minute (short term exposure limit (STEL)) reference period. An 8 hour reference period is taken because it is deemed to be the average shift duration worked per day by an employee. The 15 minute reference period is defined as the concentration to which workers can be exposed for short periods of time, 4 times per day, without suffering adverse effects. The higher is the level of potency of a chemical agent, the lower its OEL. For example, drugs with an OEL of less than 100µg/m3 are considered to be potent and those with OEL’s below 10µg/m3 are considered to be highly potent.

Once all this information is known, a containment strategy can be designed. The containment strategy will encompass both the engineering competencies (e.g. process design, containment devices, maintenance) as well as management issues (e.g. good operational techniques, training) that are necessary for the safe handling of hazardous chemical agents.

The following chart compares typical containment levels that can be reached by different containment techniques. This data was taken from ISPE and other presentations by industry experts. It is provided as a general guide to containment levels and all readings are TWA ratings.

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