Fumes can cause workers many health problems

Don’t Get Fuming Mad with Safety

In February 2015 Gunac Hawke’s Bay Limited was fined after one of its employees was overcome by toxic fumes. In January 2017, WorkSafe NZ lifted the notice prohibiting the use of a new thermally modified timber kiln at Pan Pac’s Whirinaki mill.  The mill, north of Napier, was shut down because of rashes and other ailments, which staff and neighbours feared were caused by the emissions from the kiln.

These are recent examples of where people have been adversely affected by fumes.  There are many types of fumes, gas, and other vapours which can put workers and the public at risk.  Fumes can be inhaled or come in contact with the skin or eyes.

It is not possible to set out precise requirements for every industrial situation where there is fume hazard because every workplace is different. The controls you put in place should be proportionate to the risk but the equipment selected needs to minimise health risks.  It should be appropriate for the particular work situation.

Here is are 6 things you should consider if fumes are part of your working environment:       

Adequate ventilation/extraction 

Workshops often used to rely upon a fan in the roof or open doors either end of the workshop so the wind could provide the ‘extraction’. But this meant you removed the fumes only after the operator has already breathed them in and then they would exit the building via the breathing space of all the other employees downwind. It also meant a cold workplace during winter. Now days there are many more ways to provide ventilation. Some that could be considered are:

  • Fixed hoods located at points where fumes occur/are created.
  • Ventilation equipment mounted on the equipment itself.
  • Relocatable exhaust hoods connected to fans and air-cleaners by flexible tubing.

Ventilation in a confined space is particularly important where the build-up of fumes and/or vapours can lead to the additional risks of lack of oxygen, fire or heat build up.


There are many different types of respirator.  Ensure that they have been selected based on the type of fume hazard:

  • Dust
  • Mists and aerosols e.g. paint spray
  • Metallic fumes
  • Gaseous or vapour contaminants e.g. solvents and ammonia
  • Lack of oxygen e.g. in a confined space

Employees should be trained on how to use the respirators safely.

Eye protection

Eye protection should be chosen to fit the task and the user.  Protection can be from fully sealed units, goggles, safety glasses, face shields or masks.

Protective clothing

If the fumes contain skin irritants or particles that could be transferred outside the work environment make sure that adequate protective clothing is provided.  This may include:

  • Fully enclosed suits
  • Overalls
  • Footwear
  • Gloves

Work scheduling

If possible schedule work that produces fumes or vapours when there are less people around.  Put up warning notices to ensure that the worksite hazard area is clearly identified and to stop other workers or visitors wandering into the area.

Safety training and instructions

  • Ensure personnel have had adequate health and safety training
  • Ensure that there are clear instructions and information available for all the workers.
  • Train employees to use the first aid equipment to deal with fume inhalation incidents.
  • Personnel protective gear should be regularly checked for damage and/or that it is working correctly.


Siteapp allows you to attach details of the required safety equipment to a job and create safety checklists.  Call us to find out how Siteapp can help you keep your work environment and employees safe from the effect of fumes.





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