Standardization of Operator Enclosure Air Quality -Lessons from our past

Updated: Jun 9

In the 1930s in West Virginia, at Hawk's Nest tunnel project, more than 700 workers died many within a year from silica exposure. Less than eighty years later, silica exposure prevention in operator enclosures has been researched, developed, and standardized in ISO 23875. Today silica remains a threat, but through standardization, we have the means to protect our operators from breathing silica at harmful levels while operating machines. What was a dream in the 1930s is a reality today.

Hawk's Nest Tunnel Disaster - photo courtesy of Tunneltalk.com

European standards on particulate air filter testing and classification, such as EN 779, EN 1822, and US standards ASHRAE 52.2, have been the basis of the second-generation standards that address high-efficiency air filtration such as ISO 29463 and ISO 16890. These standards are integrated into higher-level standards such as NEN 4444, EN 474, EN 15695, SAE’s J3078, ASABE’s S613, and at the international level, ISO 10263, and ISO 20474.


Collectively, we are making a massive investment in the future of operator health by working through a multigenerational standards development process. It is easy to get excited about the future, which is being made better every day through related activities in the world of standardization. There is a debt owed to thousands of researchers, scientists, engineers, and a host of others who, without compensation, invest their energies into making our world a safer, more predictable, and an awesome place to be.


Check out the ISEEE online course on how to implement ISO 23875 with Amendment 1. This course will accelerate your understanding of the standard and provide time-saving templates for the required maintenance manual and performance tests.

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