According to reliable data released by the World Health Organization, it was determined that work-related injuries and diseases affect about 1.9 million people annually. Additionally, workplace exposure to air pollution, including particulate matter, fumes, and gasses, is responsible for about 450,000 deaths yearly.
With so many workers negatively affected by hazardous gasses, workplaces must take the necessary steps to ensure their workers are safeguarded against hazardous gases so they can breathe easily.
In our article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know to learn how to safeguard against hazardous gases. We’ll also be detailing the different types of harmful gasses, how employees are exposed to these gases, and the correct PPE that should be worn. By the end, you will hopefully have a broader understanding of why safeguarding against hazardous gasses is necessary.
What Are Three Different Types Of Hazardous Gases?
Before delving into learning how to safeguard against hazardous gasses, we want to discuss three common harmful gasses that many workers often encounter when carrying out their duties.
- Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide is unique in that it’s an odorless, tasteless, and colorless harmful gas typically found in industrial processes and at construction sites as a reducing agent or energy source. Unfortunately, when certain materials are burned improperly, carbon monoxide emissions become incredibly poisonous, especially in confined spaces and crowded work areas.
The OSHA recommends that workers are not exposed to more than 50 ppm of carbon monoxide per eight-hour shift. Concentration levels above 200 ppm are deemed lethally dangerous, so workers must monitor their exposure continuously.
Additionally, exposure to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can lead to various health conditions, such as restlessness, nausea, headaches, shortness of breath, and even death.
- Hydrogen Sulfide
Hydrogen sulfide is found in numerous manufacturing processes and chemical substances. It can be identified by its ‘rotten egg’ smell. Commonly this harmful gas is found in plastics, pesticides, landfills, pharmaceuticals, and at construction sites and breweries.
The OSHA presently recommends that workers be exposed to no more than ten ppm per 10-minute intervals. This is because hydrogen sulfide is incredibly toxic – even at low concentration levels – with fatalities occurring at 100 ppm exposure.
When workers inhale hydrogen sulfide, it can cause memory loss, skin irritation, unconsciousness, dizziness, convulsions, respiratory distress, irritability, and instant death. These adverse health conditions should be avoided at all costs, which is why it is recommended that gas detectors are worn to measure hydrogen sulfide concentration levels in a worker’s vicinity.
- Nitrogen Oxides
Nitrogen oxides include a wide array of harmful gases, but the two most common nitrogen oxides are nitrogen dioxide and nitric oxide. According to experts, nitrogen oxides are one of the main contributors to reduced air quality and air pollution, and they are most often found in industrial and consumer environments.
For example, nitrogen dioxide is often used in the production of explosives and rocket fuels, while nitric oxide is a byproduct of combustible fossil fuels and is emitted by vehicles. Since nitrogen oxides are so common in the environment, numerous health officials globally urge workers to limit their exposure to these hazardous gasses.
Unsurprisingly, due to this, the current permissible limit for nitrogen dioxide is five ppm, and nitric oxide is 25 ppm per eight-hour shift. Nitric oxide levels of 100 ppm are immediately lethal, and nitrogen dioxide levels of 25 ppm are lethal.
Additionally, according to the CDC, health effects when exposed to these gases vary. Still, there is some crossover with workers experiencing pulmonary edemas, skin and respiratory tract irritation, vomiting, dizziness, headaches, and death.
How Can Employees Become Exposed To Harmful Gases in The Workplace?
Now that you know more about the common gasses workers are often exposed to, it’s time to look into how employees are exposed to harmful gasses in the workplace. There are primarily three ways, and we have spoken more about them below:
- Swallowing contaminated food and drink: When a worker’s hands or food is contaminated, they can ingest the poisonous gasses leading to a variety of side effects, including organ damage, skin irritation, dizziness, and more.
- Skin and eye contact with harmful gasses: When an employee isn’t wearing the right PPE, their eyes and skin can come in contact with hazardous gasses, often causing skin irritation, rashes, burns, and eye irritation.
- Inhalation of hazardous gasses: When employees work in a confined space or environment without proper ventilation or a respirator, they can inhale hazardous gasses. Typically, this can cause a host of diseases like lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and asthma.
Ultimately, toxic gasses inhaled, absorbed, or consumed through the eyes, skin, or mouth can cause serious damage. For example, damage to the nervous system, living cells, and tissue, serious disease, and sometimes death.
How Can Workers Be Safeguarded Against Hazardous Gasses? – Five Helpful Tips
Exposure to hazardous gasses can cause numerous health concerns for workers in various environments. Fortunately, there are ways workers can be safeguarded against dangerous gasses, and we have discussed the solutions below. Putting these solutions into practice will help employees breathe easier and trust that they are safe in their workplace.
- Conduct Exposure And Hazard Risk Assessments
One of the simplest but crucial ways to safeguard workers is to conduct exposure and hazard risk assessments before employees begin carrying out their tasks. These assessments will help employers determine the need for respirators, personal gas detectors, engineering controls, and other necessary PPE.
Additionally, not just anyone can perform these risk assessments. The OSHA recommends that employers hire an occupational safety and health professional who has been certified and has knowledge and experience with hazardous gasses and vapor exposure.
- Wear The Correct PPE
We have touched on this throughout the article because we cannot stress enough how important wearing the right PPE is to safeguard employees against harmful gasses.
Numerous experts in the field recommend those working in environments that force them to come into contact with hazardous gasses wear flame-resistant clothing, gloves, air respirators, and personal gas detectors.
Flame-resistant clothing is essential because it protects workers against burns from gas explosions and fires. Similarly, impermeable gloves limit the risks of burns and skin irritation when hands come into contact with colorless gasses.
Correctly worn air respirators (self-contained breathing apparatus or airline respirators) protect workers against oxygen-deficient atmospheres and toxic exposure. There might be other PPE needed for those working in environments with harmful gasses present, so it’s crucial to speak with a certified professional before employees commence working.
- Establish Emergency Safety Measures
There isn’t any such thing as too much prevention. That’s why employers must develop and practice emergency safety measures on sites with harmful gasses so that workers are prepared for the worst.
The established procedures should equip employees with the knowledge needed to provide a safe and immediate medical response at the scene of a gas incident that leads to injuries or unconsciousness.
For example, workers need to know how to assess and provide aid in an emergency to a colleague who has collapsed after working in an environment with toxic gases. If the correct emergency safety measures are implemented, there is a greater chance of recovery.
- Ensure Workers Are Correctly Trained On The Use Of Gas Detectors And Oxygen Monitors
Gas detectors and oxygen monitors are crucial apparatuses that employees working in harmful gas environments need to know how to operate. These devices accurately measure lower explosive limits and oxygen concentration percentages to ensure a worker’s safety.
However, although these monitors can be lifesaving, they are not foolproof. That’s why workers must understand the limitations of these oxygen and gas detection monitors and know how to heed alarms and monitor their health on their own.
For example, if they experience symptoms, they should know to leave the area and report their condition to their supervisor so that medical assistance can be sought.
- Implement A Buddy System
Working in pairs is one of the safest places to work on construction, industrial, and manufacturing sites. Thus one of the best ways to safeguard employees against hazardous gases is to implement a buddy system.
If a buddy system is in place, there will always be someone to report when an issue has arisen or to help in situations where medical attention is necessary.
Yet, it’s crucial that both people in a buddy system know the proper rescue procedures and are not stationed in the same place at the same time in hazardous areas.
Wrap-Up On Learning How To Safeguard Against Hazardous Gasses
Work environments with hazardous gasses present unique safety concerns to employers and employees. As you now know, there are numerous harmful gasses that workers can come into contact with in different ways. These hazardous gasses can cause many adverse health effects, with many employees suffering from injuries and diseases from toxic gas exposure.
That’s why it’s incredibly important for safety regulations and laws to be abided by and for employees to be fitted out with the necessary and appropriate PPE like oxygen monitors, protective clothing, and personal gas detectors. It’s also crucial that the correct safety staff is employed to conduct risk assessments and recommend the best PPE for site conditions. Armed with the appropriate PPE, employees will be safer, and gas risks will be circumvented.