Manufacturing companies that handle enzymes on a regular basis need to adopt allergen avoidance strategies in order to mitigate occupational exposure to these enzymes. These include engineering controls, personal protective equipment, protein encapsulation and reduction of airborne enzyme concentrations. More importantly, continuous atmospheric monitoring is required to assess the air risk of potential exposure. In some cases, companies need to make annual returns of average atmospheric enzyme levels. In the UK, the current occupational exposure standard for proteolytic enzymes is 60 ng m3 as 100% pure crystalline enzyme. The detergent manufacturing industry within the UK sets a lower working limit equivalent to 15 ng m3.
Occupational exposure occurs during the performance of job duties and may place a worker at risk of harm. In particular, occupational exposure to airborne high-molecular-weight allergens is a risk factor for the development of IgE-mediated respiratory disease and occupational asthma in atopic workers. The use of Industrial enzymes in high volume consumer products is on the rise, for example in detergents, foods, textiles, as well as cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Enzyme proteins have been demonstrated to represent a potential cause of respiratory allergy and as such handling enzymes during manufacturing processes can constitute a sensitising hazard to employees.
The relevant regulation which includes classification and labelling of enzymes is determined according to existing product control procedures for chemicals. Many enzyme types are listed in chemical inventories, for example EINECS in the EU and TSCA in the US. Some enzymes are considered natural substances exempt from listing while others are regulated by specific legislation covering biotechnology products. The risk assessment is the responsibility of the employer under COSHH regulations, and the responsibility of the manufacturer or the importer of the substance under REACH (EU) regulations. Compliance with current legislation, such as REACH in the EU, requires that manufacturers control exposure to enzymes by a combination of training, engineering and process control, including monitoring the exposure during work periods.