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We all breathe the same air? Or do we?

Over the last several months we have been studying the constituents of soot. We know soots long history of giving you cancer. It killed the chimney boys and it could do the same to us too. Chimney sweeps are exposed on a daily basis to massive amounts of soot. More than you realise

Stage 3 creosote in a chimney in Exeter

We also come across house hold dusts, asbestos, cement dusts and lots of other nasties. Soot as we know is made up of dozens of constituent parts namely pm 10 and 2.5s. However upto 10 percent of wood soot is made up of PAHs or Polycylic Aromatic Hydrocarbons. This is the really nasty stuff. Tiny amounts are an immediate risk and some have known mutagenic compounds such as Benzopyrene.

Formula: C20H12Molar mass: 252.31 g/molBoiling point: 495 °CSolubility in water: 0.2 to 6.2 µg/LUN number: 3077, 3082Classification: Benzopyrene, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon

Lets take a look at a similar industry which deals with Hazardous Waste which is a known Killer. The Asbestos Industry. Asbestos is a bit of a taboo name, but in reality its just a ground up mineral which is a great building product. Prior to 1999 it was used in just about anything and everything. From AIBs to Cigarette filters. It wasn’t until the 50s did people realise there was adverse affects from using asbestos. As we know it takes from to 20-40 years for asbestos exposure to take affect. The more you have been Exposed to the more at risk you are. Funnily enough the same can be said for Soot. Asbestos has data going back 70 years. We know it is pretty nasty.

So why am I linking the two?

They are both fine dusts. They are both known to give you cancer, they both cause similar cancers, yet only one industry is regulated?

Did you know the Asbestos Industry is the 2nd most Regulated industry in the UK under the Nuclear Industry? You do now

Take a look at the control measure below

Basis Asbestos Removal set up with Stage 3 Airlock

What are we seeing here? This is a pretty basic asbestos removal set up. Outside there would be a marked perimeter, and a decontamination Unit. I wont go into detail on the exact processes but lets just say you start of in your birthday suit in the decon and you finish in your birthday suit in the decon. You will start in 2 cat 3 grade 5 asbestos suits with a PAPR mask after going through the Decon. You will remove your clean Suit in the airlock. You will work in a Seperate suit after the Airlock to do your removal job using control meaures. What you can see there is a tented area using 1000 guage clear polythene which is taped and stapled. All creases have been removed with a Negative Pressure Unit set up which should make 8 air changes per hr moving 1000m3h, 2 numatic hz-250 vacs one in the contaminated area and one outside. Both Vacuums would have to be bagged for removal. Oh and all asbestos is removed wet with a defactent to stop airbourne particles being produced. The removal firm will have to then go through Decon and can finally go back into normal clothes all whilst still wearing the PAPR respirator. Yes its the last thing to come off. to make sure the area is decontaminated. There is also exposure limits, air monitoring procedures and an analyst will come in after the removal job. You get the idea its pretty involved. Every licensed asbestos job also requires a detailed Plan of Work, risk assessment, method statement and to be sent to the HSE for Approval 14 days before work commences.

So then you go to sweep a chimney, you lay your cloths, put on your mask (if you have one) bring in your tools and then remove everything from the flue. Dry. The complete opposite to how an asbestos firm would deal with asbestos. The HSE would simply close you down if you dealt with asbestos in this way. You then get in your van with your contaminated clothes and drive to next job. While all the while soot is continuing to soak through your skin and breathed in through your lovely lungs.

What is the working Exposure Limit for Soot. No one actually knows. Maybe this is something that needs to be addressed? For myself I use a PAPR respirator this reduces your Exposure limit by upto 40 times. I also use an air cleaner a haz vac, cordura sheets and 1000 guage polythene to seal off the fireplace, wash after every job, use disposables you get the idea im pretty clean.

So why am I writing this? I truly believe the Chimney Sweeping industry needs a shake up. Maybe HSE needs to step in to set out clear control parameters and methods to minimise risk to the chimney sweep. A basic set of standards needs to be ascertained to stop the Chimney Sweeps being at a large risk.

Lots of food for thought here. Maybe chimney sweeping is much more risky than you thought?

6 Responses to “Just how at risk are Chimney Sweeps?”

  1. Andy Barnes

    Long overdue discussion of risks in our profession. There should be a clear relationship between what customers should expect to pay for us to run the risk to health we do. Their ignorance is our illness.

  2. Wayne Herring

    Brilliant Article, Sweep Safe is at the forefront of the chimney sweeping industry as usual.
    Thank you.

  3. Shaun keen

    Sweep safe should be a chimney sweeps personal motto .
    Whatever organisation you belong to
    It’s not only about us but also our customers
    Unfortunately as in the asbestos industry it took years to be noticed and I have friends who still suffer
    Stay safe should continue to be way of life even after this pandemic!

    • Daniel Hodgson

      Hi Shaun, this was not written by an association or Sweep Safe. This was writtem by me, Danny Hodgson.
      Agreed chimney sweeps need to be responsible for the way they work.
      Many chimney sweeps already die yearly from oesophagus cancer. And other industrial related diseases.
      This blog was merely to highlight the differences between the chimney sweeping industry and asbestos industry and how can we work better/ safer as chimney sweeps.


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