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An average person can inhale 3,000 liters of air in an eight-hour working day; little do we know that the air we breathe everyday at work can contain various airborne hazards that can significantly affect our health. Learn about them in this course and discover the safety precautions you should observe to protect yourself from exposure.
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**What are Airborne Hazards? **
An average person can inhale 3,000 litres of air over an eight hour working day. 1 In conditions of hard physical work, up to 10,000 litres may be inhaled. In many workplaces, this air contains contaminants from work activities or processes. These contaminants in the air are collectively known as airborne hazards.
Airborne hazards or contaminants can be released into the air when: using hazardous chemicals; and carrying out work processes such as fracturing of solid material (e.g. crushing rock) using rotating tools and parts (e.g. sanders, circular saws, drills) spraying paint hot processes (e.g. furnaces, soldering, welding) and cleaning and waste handling. In the next slide, let's take a look at some of the most common airborne hazards.
What are some examples of airborne hazards?
Dusts Dust are PM consisting of solid particles ranging in size from below 1 µm up to around 100 µm, which can become airborne.2 Examples of hazardous dusts are mineral dusts (e.g. silica, coal), metallic dusts (e.g. lead, cadmium), and vegetable dusts (e.g. wood, flour, pollen).
Fumes These are solid particles generated by condensation from the gaseous state generally after volatilization from molten metals (or at a furnace area). 3 Some processes that produce harmful fumes include laboratory work, pharmaceutical manufacturing, fermentation, and laser printing.
Gases Gases completely fill the containers in which they are kept and are formless, diffusing liquids and can only be transformed to the liquid state by the combined effect of increased pressure and decreased temperature.3 Gases that cause the most air pollution include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, and nitrogen oxide.
Vapors Vapors are composed of single, gas-phase molecules that normally exists as a liquid or solid under a given set of conditions. It can be condensed into a liquid or solid with the application of pressure, as long as the temperature is below a certain point.4 Examples include **water vapor ** and solvent vapor released from adhesives, paints or inks
Mist Mists consist of small liquid droplets that are generated by condensation from the gaseous state or even by the breaking-up of a liquid into a dispersed (sprinkling / spraying) state. 3 The size of the liquid particles is usually in the range of 1 to 1,000 nanometers. An example would be spray paint and oil mists from cutting or grinding operations.
Smoke Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases, water vapor, and fine particles produced when organic materials burn. 5 It is created when a substance undergoes incomplete combustion, or when their is not enough oxygen present while burning. Different sources of smoke include fires (e.g. wildfires, industrial fires), vehicle exhausts, cooking activities, and cigarette smoking.
Effects of Airborne Hazards to Human Health
According to the Global Burden of Disease study, 3.4 million people died prematurely in 2017 as a result of outdoor air pollution including gaseous air pollutants (ozone) and particulate matter (PM 2.5). That makes it the 4th leading risk factor of death across the world. This was also more than 3x the number who died from HIV/AIDS and over 8x the number of homicides.
Most Notable Incidents Involving Exposure to Airborne Hazards
**1930 Meuse Valley, Belgium Fog ** This incident killed 60 people in Belgium due to a combination of industrial air pollution and climatic conditions in December that year. The main symptom was dyspnea (shortness of breath). Kaj Roholm, Danish scientist and world's leading authority on fluorine, determined that it was the fluorine gas from the nearby factories that was the killer.
Acid Rain in Indiana and Chicago (1969) Just right after millions of Americans watch as Neil Armstrong becomes the first person to walk on the moon, acid rain poured over Gary, Indiana and East Chicago which burned lawns, ate away tree leaves, and caused birds to lose their feathers. It was attributed to the sulfur dioxide pollution emitted by industries nearby.
Asbestosis Asbestosis is caused by the inhalation of microscopic fibers of asbestos. The disease is progressive, resulting in scarring of the lungs with fibrous tissue, according to the American Lung Association.
Coal worker's pneumoconiosis It is caused by inhaling coal dust. Also known as black lung disease, the condition, in severe cases, is characterized by scarring on the lungs (which often permanently damages the lungs and may lead to shortness of breath).
Silicosis Silicosis is a lung disease caused by inhaling free crystalline silica, a dust found in the air of mines and glass manufacturing facilities. Characterized by scarring of the lungs, silicosis itself can increase the risk for other lung diseases, including tuberculosis (a chronic, bacterial infection that usually infects the lungs).
Byssinosis Byssinosis is caused by dust from hemp, flax, and cotton processing. Also known as brown lung disease, the condition is chronic and characterized by chest tightness and shortness of breath.
Occupational Asthma It is caused by inhaling certain irritants in the workplace, such as dusts, gases, fumes, and vapors. It is the most common form of occupational lung disease and can worsen pre-existing asthma.
Your PPE vs Airborne Hazards
What are the key factors when choosing PPE?
What are the most essential PPE against airborne hazards? Respirators Safety Goggles Face Shields Let's know more about each of them in the next slides.
How to check that your respirator fits and works?
Look at it. Move and touch all the parts to make sure they are put together correctly and there are no holes, cracks, or damage.
Try it on. Make sure it fits. Turn your head from side to side and up and down. Check that it does not bump against your shoulder or chest. Speak for 30 seconds to see if moving your jaw and lips changes the fit.
Breathe normally first and then take a deep breath. Can you smell or taste the chemical you are working with? If you can, then it is not working properly. However, some chemicals do not have a smell or you might not be able to smell them. Try to test your mask around chemicals you can normally smell.
Check the seal. Test the respirator every time you put it on. Even if the respirator fits well one day, it might not the next. Always take the time to test the fit of any respirator you wear.
Occupational Face Shields Face shields are considered secondary protectors to be used in addition to primary protection such as safety spectacles or goggles.
Face shield windows are made with different transparent materials and in varying degrees or levels of thickness. The thickness of the face shield window should be matched to the task.
Face shield with heat-reflective windows are good choices as they offer protection against not only for airborne particles, but also for UV rays, impact and radiant heat.
Diagnosis of Respiratory Diseases
Respiratory diseases are leading causes of death and disability in the world.
About 65 million people suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and 3 million die from it each year, making it the third leading cause of death worldwide.
About 334 million people suffer from asthma, the most common chronic disease of childhood affecting 14% of all children globally.
Pneumonia kills millions of people annually and is a leading cause of death among children under 5 years old.
And at least 2 billion people are exposed to indoor toxic smoke, 1 billion inhale outdoor pollutant air and 1 billion are exposed to tobacco smoke.
It is important to pay attention to these symptoms of lung diseases as knowing them early on can help you receive treatment before the disease becomes serious or even life threatening.
When I experience symptoms such as difficulty in breathing and chronic chest pains, I should immediately consult a doctor as a good preventive measure.
Where do doctors base their diagnosis from? 2 History of exposure to high concentrations of known pollutants and other airborne hazards at work and at home; Symptoms experienced; and pulmonary function tests.
Pulmonary Function Tests 1 Pulmonary function tests (PFTs), or lung function tests, are a group of tests that measure how well your lungs work. This includes how well you’re able to breathe and how effective your lungs are able to bring oxygen to the rest of your body. Swipe down to know the most commonly included tests in a PFT.
Spirometry Your PFTs may include spirometry, which measures the amount of air you breathe in and out. For this test, you’ll sit in front of a machine and be fitted with a mouthpiece.
Plethysmography test A plethysmography test measures the volume of gas in your lungs, known as lung volume. For this test, you’ll sit or stand in a small booth and breathe into a mouthpiece.
Diffusion capacity test This test evaluates how well the small air sacks inside the lungs, called alveoli, work. For this part of a pulmonary function test, you will be asked to breathe in certain gases such as oxygen, helium, or carbon dioxide
Resources To know more about the diagnosis of various lung diseases, you may check these following resources: American Lung Association https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute www.nhlbi.nih.gov American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments Centers for Disease Control and Prevention www.cdc.gov/copd