Health and Safety In Aluminum Manufacturing

As aluminum becomes the material of choice for construction projects in domains as varied as the industrial (with exterior facades and decorative architecture) to the residential (with roofing, fenestration, fencing, railing, and staircases), the demand for this auspicious metal has skyrocketed exponentially. While businesses, construction companies, and homeowners alike have come to respect the sturdy, non-corrosive, and aesthetically pleasing qualities aluminum possesses, many are assuredly unaware of the painstaking and potentially hazardous effects mining, processing, and smelting of this substance may have on workers in the industry. Of course, health and safety in aluminum manufacturing are of prime importance to those in the industry, at every step of these arduous processes. 

Bauxite Mining

Bauxite is the principal ore involved in the processing of aluminum. Although this ore is relatively easy to mine compared to others, there are several hazards associated with the mining process, not the least of which is noise. Blasting, drilling, crushing, and the ever-present rumble of heavy equipment can contribute to significant hearing loss. This is why responsible companies invest in auditory protective equipment and insist on periodic shifts in manpower to protect their employees. Further, since the majority of bauxite mining occurs in tropical areas such as West Africa, Australia, and South America, heat exposure is also a primary concern.  Proper health and safety in aluminum manufacturing requires steady hydration, protective clothing, shift changes, and emergency response stations to deal with over-exposure to heat and UV rays. 

Health and Safety In Aluminum Manufacturing and Smelting

Following the mining of bauxite, the ore requires refining. Through an intricate method of extraction known as the Bayer process, the ore is transformed into a  substance called alumina. Not yet aluminum, this substance must be further refined and smelted in what is called the Hall–Héroult process. As with all heavy manufacturing processes, the risks are significant for those exposed to them, which is why practices in health and safety in aluminum manufacturing are so essential.

Physical Hazards

The most prominent physical hazards involved in the smelting process are heat stress, noise, and exposure to electromagnetic fields. Aside from protective equipment, controls related to all the hazards, particularly heat stress, are well in place for responsible companies in the aluminum industry. For example, acclimatization and screening are practiced before and during worker hiring processes. Workers are also trained in identifying heat-related illnesses, emergency response planning, and personal cooling methods. Of course, a hallmark of health and safety in aluminum manufacturing is the presence of a nearby emergency response medical team and first aid stations. 

Respiratory Disorders

The smelting process has a long history of being associated with respiratory disease and complications, and the processes outlined in aluminum smelting are no exception. Coughing, wheezing, and instances of rhinitis are often reported by smelter workers. The development of asthma is another chief medical concern. More serious disorders, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, have also been observed on sites where health and safety measures are lax. To combat these effects and fulfill proper health and safety in aluminum manufacturing, responsible companies will invest in state-of-the-art safety equipment and ventilation, as well as worker training. So long as aluminum is a popular and well-used metal, health and safety in aluminum manufacturing will always be a concern. Responsible companies in the industry will seek education and innovation in taking proper care of their workers, so the materials and products so well loved by the general public can be delivered in a safe and hazard-free way!For more information on health and safety in aluminum manufacturing or to book an appointment to discuss your project, contact Mondi-Alumnium today.