Minimising exposure to bitumen emissions in the workplace
Bitumen emissions at ambient temperature are negligible. However, bitumen is hot when manufactured and, because of its physical characteristics, it is also hot when transported and hot in most applications. While the main hazard when working with hot bitumen is burns, an issue addressed in our May 2018 website feature article Avoiding and managing bitumen burns, at these elevated temperatures bitumen can also give off emissions that are sometimes visible as fumes - as is the case with other hot materials.
To minimise exposure to emissions, people working with hot bitumen should take appropriate precautions and follow specified operating procedures and safety guidelines.
Maximum Safe Handling Temperatures
Temperature is a key determinant for both the amount and composition of emissions from hot bitumen.
For more than 20 years, bitumen manufacturers have specified maximum safe handling and storage temperatures for their bitumen products, primarily to prevent the formation of flammable atmospheres in heated storage tanks. These recommendations have been widely communicated by Eurobitume and its members.
The maximum safe handling and storage temperatures vary according to bitumen grade. The current recommended maximum temperatures are:
- 200 °C for straight-run and air-rectified bitumen
- 230 °C for oxidised bitumen
Research studies have shown that for temperatures within the range recommended by Eurobitume (see above and here), bitumen emissions are expected to be within regulatory limits and unlikely to be hazardous to health.
In some applications, working temperatures in excess of the recommended handling and storage maxima are employed.
Whilst it may be possible in certain circumstances to operate safely at higher working temperatures, these operations should be subject to specific task-based assessment. This assessment should include an identification of HSE risks and any additional safety measures that may need to be taken to reduce exposure. Employers have a legal obligation to assess and control HSE risks in the workplace from exposure to chemicals, and to ensure compliance with workplace exposure limits.
The recommended maximum safe handling temperatures are based on a sound foundation and Eurobitume and its members strongly recommend that they are not exceeded.
In the workplace
Exposure to bitumen fumes can be minimised by following comprehensive health and safety guidelines, which include measures such as:
- Follow safety instructions
- Keep the temperature of the material as low as practically possible
- Work in well-ventilated conditions
- Rotate jobs around a worksite
- Wear personal protective equipment (PPE), especially in confined spaces
It is important to remember that the main hazard when working with hot bitumen is bitumen burns and focus should be put on safe handling, safe delivery and using the correct PPE. For more information, see our article Avoiding and managing bitumen burns and our Safety page.
As guidance, Eurobitume has developed Safe Delivery of Bitumen Guides, which set an industry benchmark for bitumen handling procedures, along with the Safe Handling Card - these are available in 22 languages.
In addition, all Eurobitume members provide Safety Data Sheets (SDS) which outline occupational health and safety information to ensure safe use of chemical compounds in the workplace. Customers and downstream users can obtain SDS from their local bitumen suppliers.