The 4 Top Causes of Cleanroom Contamination
In any cleanroom facility, maintaining strict cleanliness requirements is a monumental challenge.
Cleanroom facilities are vital to any industry working within the areas of life sciences or electronic component production. Whether manufacturing pharmaceuticals, working with high tech semiconductors or researching biological specimens, even the smallest stray particles in the air can cause disastrous results requiring expensive downtime and cleanup procedures.
In any cleanroom facility, maintaining strict cleanliness requirements is a monumental challenge. Absolutely everything, both inside and outside of the room, is a potential source of contamination. From the equipment used for work all the way down to the very air in the room, everything must be scrutinized and controlled to keep contamination to an absolute minimum.
According to the National Environmental Balancing Bureau (NEBB), the number one cause of contamination within cleanrooms is the staff. In fact, cleanroom operators and technicians are responsible for 70% to 80% of cleanroom contamination problems.
The following are four basic factors that contribute to contamination through cleanroom technicians and/or operators:
Small variations in personal hygiene can make a big difference when it comes to potential contamination within a highly controlled environment. If a person’s hands and/or face are not completely clean, there is a much higher number of potentially damaging particles seeping out from under protective clothing, including dandruff, hair and loose skin.
It is extremely important that operators are given instructions on proper hygiene, and that they follow these practices consistently. Hands and face should be washed thoroughly and left without any excess lotions or makeup. Operators should also be fully dressed in appropriate cleanroom apparel at all times to prevent contamination from the natural shedding of skin and other particles from the body. When considering clothing, it is especially important to make sure gloves and shoe coverings properly cover cuff and ankle openings of the cleanroom garments when arms and legs are extended to prevent particles from escaping.
The street clothes that are worn under cleanroom garments don’t always get the consideration that they should. After all, the purpose of the special cleanroom garments is, after all, to stop contamination from a person’s regular street clothes, right?
While special protective garments do a lot to reduce contamination, the possibility can be reduced even further if operators pay attention to the types of street clothes they choose to wear to work. Fabrics like flannel, suede, velour and others that shed or form “pills” introduce extra risks into the environment. If they are not present in the first place, there is no possibility that these materials will escape from cleanroom garments and lead to contamination.
Not quite the same as second hand smoke, residual smoke consists of particles that are left in the lungs and slowly emitted into the air after someone smokes a cigarette or cigar. If employees smoke during breaks or off-time, residual smoke can become a possible contaminant in even the most sterile of cleanrooms. Asking smokers to gargle or rinse their mouths will assist in diminishing this potential risk. The best solution, however, is to use facemasks which will prevent residual smoke, as well as other particles in exhaled breath, from entering the controlled environment.
Not a physical factor, but just as important, is the attitude technicians and operators have as it relates to the probability of causing contamination at some point. Employees who don’t understand why they need to follow certain procedures, or just don’t care, are more likely to overlook necessary protocols and eventually cause something to go wrong.
It is important to monitor employee attitudes and morale. Everyone should be regularly encouraged to follow all procedures, as well as make suggestions to improve them where necessary. Everyone has to work together to keep standards high.
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