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Elkem is partner in DeMaskUs, a four-year research project focusing on optimal use of respiratory protection in the smelter industry. The project started in 2015 and is an interdisciplinary research project aiming to identify sources and dispersion of ultrafine particles in the Norwegian ferroalloy and silicon carbide industries, their effect on anyone exposed to them, and how exposed workers can effectively be protected. The focus is on personal respiratory protection equipment and human behaviour.

The DeMaskUs project is researching the effectiveness of various dust masks against ultrafine particles. It is also looking at the psychological factors that may affect how people use personal protection equipment. Studies have illustrated that factors such as knowledge, attitude, behaviour, individual differences and workplace culture are important predictors with regard to whether respiratory protection equipment is actually used.

The final goal of these investigations is to be able to achieve intervention strategies that better facilitate desired behaviour and thus increase the probability of actual and correct respiratory protection equipment use. ‘Fit testing’ of respiratory protection has been used actively at Elkem’s Norwegian silicon and ferrosilicon smelters over the past few years to increase correct use of this type of protection among exposed employees.

During the testing employees are instructed in the correct use of the equipment and given the opportunity to try different types of masks to find the optimal fit for the shape of their face. The DeMaskUs project has enhanced this through mapping of possible psychological factors with questionnaires filled out by employees and studied by researchers.

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