A guide to dust control in the pharmaceutical sector


The dangers of dust in any workplace environment are well documented. From a business point of view, dust can impact productivity and product quality, while from a health perspective, regularly inhaling dust can cause respiratory illnesses and diseases. James Miller from Dust Control UK explains

A guide to dust control in the pharmaceutical sector

In recent years, there has been a strong focus in the UK to improve the health and safety of workers, and it has been great to see a rise in the uptake of providing safe and clean work environments. The coronavirus pandemic brought with it new challenges of keeping workspaces safe, and while all industries have had to endure an extremely difficult and unprecedented period, one positive is that we will be better prepared for such events in the future.

The pharmaceutical industry, in particular, is renowned for having strict hygiene and cleanliness requirements, and COVID-19 has only heightened the need to maintain such a high level of health and safety in the sector, especially with the production of consumable synthetic and organic substances.

Imagine a cleanroom with an outlet in the wall which could be closed with a flap valve or shutter

Falling short of undertaking the appropriate cleaning, as well as failing to tackle dust in hard-to-reach areas, will almost certainly affect product quality, while also running a high risk of contamination. In such cases, consumers could face potentially fatal consequences in the event of an extreme allergic reaction.

Poor cleaning regimes can also result in workers being exposed to fine dusts that can cause inflammation of the airways. Inhalation of dust can develop into serious infections such as bronchitis and other long-term health conditions, while overexposure for a prolonged period can cause permanent disabilities, and even death.

We continue to gauge a deeper understanding of the harmful properties of dust, and more and more businesses are taking steps in the right direction to control and confine areas in the workplace where excessive dust is created.

A systematic approach

Standard cleanrooms, prevalent in pharmaceutical facilities, already offer a high level of protection to both workers and the products they produce, but can more be done? In short, yes.

Unfortunately, while being aware and attempting to address areas that need to be thoroughly cleaned and maintained regularly, the actual cleaning required often results in pharmaceutical businesses using up a considerable amount of time, money and resources. It can become a never-ending snowball effect, as not having the correct equipment to effectively capture dust at its source, both where and when it's created, leads to an accumulation of dust, which in turn will naturally increase the time and money required to combat it.

Centralised vacuum systems can be tailored to a client’s requirements

Centralised vacuum systems, which can be tailored to fit a client's requirements, ensure clean products are ready for delivery to the next stage in the manufacturing process by eliminating dust, liquid, or smoke at the source, and can also be used for efficient general cleaning.

So, imagine a cleanroom with an outlet in the wall which could be closed with a flap valve or shutter that connects to a piped system. It would extract dust or other harmful material out of the room without risk of contamination. A hose is fitted to the outlet avoiding the need for mobile vacuum equipment to be transported in and out the room, which can increase cleaning costs and contamination risk. It is important that the hose offers flexibility, being tough enough to withstand the abrasion created when transporting any extracted material. Considerations should also be given to chemical and heat resistance as well as conductivity to static electricity.

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Cleaning tools, suction casings and special nozzles are the components that actually capture the contaminant. The design and effectiveness of these will determine the efficiency and acceptance of the entire system. Of course, such a comprehensive offering demands a varied and complete assortment of specially designed products. For instance, the spring-loaded flap valves that connect to the centralised vacuum system in a pharmaceutical cleanroom need to meet the requirements for cleanroom applications.

The valve body is typically antistatic whilst the exposed surfaces of the valve are brushed stainless steel of hygienic design, and specially developed for the industry. Inductive sensors provide automatic start/stop functionality.

The system itself can be controlled by system control panels that operate both the vacuum producers and cleaning of the filter. A variety of other control functions can be installed as required and intelligent features can be included, such as the control of the motor speed according to the number of users, and thereby reduce energy consumption.

Maximising air quality

In this COVID landscape we find ourselves in, and with the global rise of the Omicron variant, it's important to consider adding high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration to the centralised vacuum system to contain and remove coronavirus particles. Indeed, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control suggests placing HEPA filters over vents and exhausts in workspaces to reduce the spread of the virus, by capturing and removing it from the room. HEPA-13 filtration has been tested to capture at least 99.95 per cent of particles between 0.15 to 0.3 micrometres.

A typical pharmaceutical company will have clientele consisting of healthcare service providers and professionals, such as doctors, pharmacies, hospitals, healthcare centres, clinics, and laboratories. To ensure a high level of cleanliness on both surfaces and in the air, the company would need of an effective suction system to guarantee the quality and capacity of its production, as well as improve workers' health.

A central vacuum system along with piping and accessories could be installed to help the business reach and sustain their high level of cleanliness through the system's efficiency, reliability in service, and longevity, providing a superior total economic solution.

Accessories such as flap valves, suction brushes and flat nozzles offer increased hygiene and safety

It is important to note, however, that while centralised vacuum systems are the most effective way of ensuring ultimate cleanliness in pharmaceutical cleanrooms, mobile vacuum equipment can also be used.

While they are a secondary option to centralised vacuum systems due to the risk of contamination when manoeuvring the equipment in and out the room, unless they permanently stay in the room, there are products available that are suited to the sector's stringent requirements of cleanliness.

Stainless steel industrial vacuums that are cyclone-based with HEPA-13 filtration, for example, are an ideal solution for ATEX Zone 22 settings and the high hygienic demands within the pharmaceutical and food industries. Having a high resistance to acids, with its stainless-steel design enabling use of alkaline wash solutions, and a brushless motor, this equipment is suitable for operation in environments with potentially combustible dust, being non-conductive.

In addition to industrial mobile vacuums, there are other solutions on the market that have been specifically developed to help offer a comprehensive range of accessories and fixed equipment, built to high standards.

A variety of other control functions can be installed as required and intelligent features can be included

Accessories such as flap valves, suction brushes, flat nozzles, hose connectors, full stainless tubing system, joints, pre-separator, automatic shutter valves, and stainless-steel filter units, offer increased safety, hygiene and cost-efficiency in production. These accessories are typically antistatic and ESD certified, which means they can also be used in ATEX Zone 22, where dust explosions can occur.

The brushes and nozzles are also approved for surface contact with pharmaceutical products and the system for pharmaceutical transport, being both FDA compliant and the European equivalent. In addition, their material composition makes them detectable via metal detector as well as being autoclavable up to 121°C, allowing for high-pressure saturated steam cleaning. Ultimately, they combine to provide a flexible system where all parts are approved for contact with the compounds being developed and produced.

With companies spending a considerable amount of time and money on cleaning, it pays to make sure they're doing it right. Streamlining cleaning processes and using the optimum equipment ensures that those in the pharmaceutical sector can operate with the reassurance that their product is of the highest quality, and their workers are safe from developing respiratory illness onsite.