Inhaling dust or fumes at work is a hazard for many workers. Construction, shipbuilding and paper mills are some examples where harmful particles are produced that cause severe health problems if inhaled. The Australian government’s Safe Work Australia details the hazards, safety legislation and the compliance required by companies working in high-risk industries. As well as protective clothing and eye protection, powered air respirators provide vital protection from breathing in harmful chemicals.
Some common airborne hazards in industry include:
Silica is a mineral found in rocks and soil. Dust particles of crystalline silica are common in construction, civil engineering ‒ particularly tunnelling projects ‒ and quarrying. If inhaled regularly, the dust can cause silicosis, where scarring on the lungs leads to difficulties with breathing. Silicosis increases the likelihood of other diseases such as bronchitis, tuberculosis and lung cancer.
Welding fumes are a mixture of hazardous particles, gases and metal oxides. The fumes are a by-product of welding, and the particles depend on the type of welding used: heat or heat and pressure.
The elements in the fumes depend on base metal to be welded, any surface coatings, type of shielding gas or flux and the composition of the welding stick. Metal particles found in welding fumes include aluminium, antimony, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, lead, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silver, tin, titanium, vanadium and zinc; gases may include nitrogen, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, phosgene, hydrogen fluoride, carbon dioxide, argon and helium.
Immediate problems with exposure include eye, nose and throat irritation, nausea and dizziness. Long-term illness is more serious and includes cancer, kidney damage, stomach ulcers and neurological diseases.
Asbestos is a natural mineral that was used extensively in the construction industry because of its fire and heat-resistant qualities. The mineral was often used to lag industrial pipework, provide roof sheets and provide firestops. In the sixties, researches began to understand the dangers of asbestos fibre, although it was used in construction until the 1980s in Australia, and was not totally banned until December 2003. Today, asbestos removal is a specialised occupation.
Left undisturbed, asbestos is not harmful. The danger comes when the material is disturbed or damaged; as the fibre particles become airborne, they lead to fatal health problems if inhaled. Diseases resulting from asbestos fibres include mesothelioma, a cancer of the lungs and digestive tract; asbestosis, similar to silicosis, it scars the lining of the lung over time and leads to increasingly shortness of breath; pleural thickening occurs after severe exposure to asbestos and results in swelling of the lung’s lining causing shortness of breath and chest pains.
Respiratory Protection Devices
All respiratory protection devices should comply with AS/NZS 1715:2009 for their selection, use and maintenance, and AS/NZS 1716. In the above examples, ordinary dust masks usually do not prevent particles from being inhaled and are insufficient to meet the required government standards.
Maxisafe supplies a range of powered air purifying respirators (PAPR) for hazardous industrial working conditions. With innovative designs, their products protect the worker, fit comfortably and ensure that working ability is not restricted. Features of various models include a pivot flip-up mechanism in the welding helmet and adjustable airflow and alarms for low air and battery life in its face shield masks. Most products weigh between 385 g to 775 g.
To find out more about Maxisafe’s PAPRs and other products, contact our offices in Melbourne, Sydney or Perth. Alternatively, contact us through https://maxisafe.com.au/contact-us/