Dangerous Air: What You Need to Know About Toxic Fumes
When you think of workplace injuries what may come to mind are slips, falls and heavy equipment accidents. What may not be as obvious is exposure to toxic fumes. So what are they and why do they matter when it comes to workplace safety?
Sources of Toxic Fumes
Dangerous gases can be encountered in all types of day labor work. In welding, toxic fumes are released from the metal (and their coatings) you’re melting and cutting. Workers who deal with hot asphalt in road paving, roofing or concrete work, they are exposed to vapors from that petroleum-based product. Carbon monoxide is a real hazard when working with small gas powered equipment like high-pressure washers, power trowels and concrete cutting saws. Solvents, pigments and anti-rust paints also give off toxic fumes that can create a health hazard for the workers who use them.
The Health Effects of Toxic Fumes
Exposure to toxic fumes can have minor effects to very serious health conditions depending on the particular gas and how much of it you inhale. Fumes from copper used in welding can irritate your eyes, nose and throat while coming into frequent contact with iron which oxides can lead to lung cancer. Day laborers who work with asphalt can suffer from headaches, a loss of appetite, skin rash and fatigue. Chronic exposure of asphalt fumes can lead to respiratory problems like asthma and bronchitis. Carbon monoxide poisoning is especially dangerous because this gas is colorless and odorless so you may not know you’ve breathed in too much until it’s too late. Overexposure to this gas can lead to permanent brain damage and even death.
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself
Now that you know about the common types of fumes and what happens if you’re over exposed to them, the next question becomes: “How can you protect yourself?” There are a number of steps you can take no matter what type of worker you are:
Keeping the work area properly ventilated. From taking advantage of natural air when working outside to using exhaust and ventilating systems, make sure you keep these gases flowing out of your work space so you’re not constantly breathing it in.
Wear the right protective gear. Respirators are important pieces of personal gear when ventilation is not enough to keep you safe from toxic fumes. If your job site requires this type of gear, make sure you’re wearing it at all times.
Test the air before you start working. This is a critical step especially when working in confined spaces. Due to the nature of the space, falling ill due to a high concentration of toxic fumes is very likely. That’s why it’s important to use the right equipment to test the air quality before you step inside.
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