Surface engineering involves altering the properties of solid surfaces to enhance their preservation and/or design. This includes plating technologies. Examples include preventing corrosion, making items more aesthetic to the eye, making surfaces non-stick and lubricity enhancement. These technologies are used in the automotive, electronic, biomedical, steel, power and road surfacing environments. Most types of materials, i.e. metals, ceramics, polymers etc. can be coated onto similar or dissimilar materials to preserve them. Otherwise, environmental erosion will cause wear, fatigue and corrosion.

There are many technologies and nano technologies used in surface engineering that are hazardous to health. These include chromium and nickel plating technologies. Nickel and chromium acid mist can be detrimental to health. These mists can be breathable when dispersed into the air. These substances can cause lung cancer, occupational asthma, occupational dermatitis and burns. These chemicals are classified by REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) as being of very high concern and they require authorisation under these regulations. COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) requires one to substitute these more dangerous chemicals with less hazardous alternatives. If this is not possible, it is necessary to control the risks. Local exhaust ventilation and ways of reducing mist levels, for example, the use of chroffles can help control these chemical mists. ‘Chroffles’ look like ping pong balls that form a floating layer on the surface of the electrolyte. Chromic mist is corrosive to equipment so this should be monitored regularly.

Depending on the risk assessment, operators may also be required to wear the appropriate PPE/RPE. Gloves which resist the permeation of chromium/nickel should be used. Floors, walls and other surfaces should be cleaned regularly to prevent contamination. Eye protection and full face visors are necessary where there is a risk of splashing. Coveralls, impervious aprons and regular hand washing is vital. A health surveillance can be in operation in these environments. Emergency showers and emergency eye wash stations are required to be in the immediate vicinity of these work areas.

All should be trained in the risks, understand the correct maintenance of control measures, undergo work practices that prevent/reduce exposure and be aware of emergency procedures.


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