While the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides permissible exposure limits for various airborne toxic chemicals, companies should consider analyzing the exposure rate for individual employees. Depending on the length of exposure, occupation and other factors that influence the overall air quality of a facility, employers should be cognizant of the different exposure risks for individuals.
Workers are often exposed to biological pollutants that could be detrimental to air quality and trigger asthma attacks, according to the American Lung Association. Other air impurities like toxic gases and fumes have more long-term effects such as respiratory problems and could even cause issues with memory.
To limit exposure to harmful air pollutants that may cause occupational illnesses and fatalities, employers may want to provide workers with respiratory protection, such as respirators. According to OSHA, 1.3 million workplaces in the U.S. have approximately 5 million workers wear respirators.
The Oregon branch of OSHA recently released a guidance document for assessing respiratory risks in the workplace and other information about respiratory protection. Oregon OSHA recommended employers follow a three-step process for hazard analysis to find the source of respiratory hazards and protect against them.
In the document, the agency suggests companies use personal exposure monitoring to measure the individuals' exposure rate by creating samples of the air they breathe in. Employers could also perform area monitoring, which involves collecting samples in locations in the facility where employees, managers or other workers suspect the air quality might be affecting their health or productivity. By undergoing exposure monitoring, employers can determine what the concentration of air impurities is and whether employees are at a high risk of developing negative health effects.
Engineering controls could complement respiratory protection
With the various airborne hazards in workplaces affecting workers on a case-by-case basis, companies may want to consider whether they should use personal protective equipment such as a respirators as well as engineering controls to reduce exposure to chemical and biological contaminants.
To complement respiratory protection, companies could install engineering controls to improve ventilation and air quality. These solutions include fume extraction equipment to remove impurities that could lower air quality and replace them with clean air. Fume extraction equipment could be installed close to the source of chemical exposure to target air impurities before they enter a worker's breathing space.
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