Hexavalent chromium, nickel and cadmium and reducing exposure in electroplating

Over the last few years, the REACH Directive and Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs) have been “big news” in the surface engineering sector. Under REACH, the use of certain chemicals listed as SVHCs has been placed under a number of restrictions, thus making it harder for companies working in the surface engineering sector to use them during their plating processes.

Substances such as hexavalent chromium, nickel and cadmium compounds used in electroplating have been included in the SVHC list as they have been proven to hold either carcinogenic or asthma-genic properties – or both.

The SEA, in partnership with the HSE, has carried out extensive research into “whether repeat Biological Monitoring (BM) over a period of time could be used to help drive sustainable improvements in exposure control”. [1]

Fifty-three SEA members who carry out hexavalent chromium, nickel and cadmium electroplating took part in the study. During visits to their facilities, occupational hygiene assessments of the electroplating processes were undertaken, measuring exposure controls.

Exposure to hexavalent chromium, nickel and cadmium in electroplating is most commonly achieved through inhalation, dermal contact and ingestion. Post-shift BM was therefore used to measure the levels of exposure to these substances. These included urine sampling and measurements of levels of contamination to workers’ hands and workplace surfaces.

BM results showed that electroplaters had the highest exposure to these substances, followed by ancillary workers such as maintenance staff who also received elevated exposure.

It was found, however, that sustainable and significant reductions in exposure can be achieved through companies developing a better understanding of exposure pathways and implementing regular BM over the lifetime of each project using these substances. During the research, reductions of between 30 and 40% for nickel, and 20 to 30% for chromium were realised through interventions such as improved exposure control.

To review the report in its entirety, please click here.

If you would like to discuss how your company can put in effective controls in relation to exposure to hexavalent chromium, nickel and cadmium, or if you have any questions regarding the above, please call us on 0121 237 1123 or email us at info@sea.org.uk.

[1] RR963 – Exposure to hexavalent chromium, nickel and cadmium compounds in the electroplating industry