Respiratory Protection: What You Need to Know

Working in the construction industry means you are constantly exposed to – and at risk of inhaling – potentially dangerous substances, such as gases, dusts, mists, and fumes. It’s important to protect yourself against respiratory hazards, as they can adversely affect your health and even have long-term consequences. While some substances may result in itchy eyes or skin irritation, others can cause severe and potentially fatal health conditions including kidney damage, COPD, silicosis, and lung cancer. According to OSHA, some respiratory hazards to watch out for are:

  • Dusts
  • Metal fumes from welding and cutting
  • Solvent vapors from spray coatings
  • Infectious agents like bacteria
  • Oxygen deficiency when in confined spaces

With the proper precautions and protections, you can minimize your risk of inhaling dangerous substances. Here are some things you can do to keep your respiratory system healthy:

Monitor Work Areas

In all work situations, safety is paramount, so it’s important for employers and employees to regularly monitor work areas. While your workspace or site may look the same from one day to the next, subtle changes can make a big difference when it comes to air quality. According to OSHA, “Changes in operating procedures, temperature, air movement, humidity, and work practices may influence the concentration of a substance in the work area atmosphere.” It’s important to know the safety levels (if any) of all substances in your space and what to do if the levels become unsafe.

Wear a Respirator

According to OSHA, “a respirator is a protective device that covers the nose and mouth or the entire face or head to guard the wearer against hazardous atmospheres.” You must wear one whenever safety measures or work conditions are “not adequate to prevent atmospheric contamination at the worksite.” Wearing just any respirator is not enough, however; there are different respirators for different situations, tasks, and conditions. The two primary types of respirators are: 1. Air-purifying respirators, which filter out ambient air, and 2. atmosphere-supplying respirators, which use filters to remove harmful substances from the air. It’s important to wear the appropriate type of respirator and to do frequent checks of the oxygen and air cylinders to make sure they are fully charged and operational.

Control the Dust

What is the one thing you are most likely to inhale on a construction site? Dust! You may not see it, but it is constantly around you. It is important to eliminate dust as it accumulates rather than waiting until the end of the work day. Breathing in dust from concrete, masonry, and rock can cause silicosis, which is permanent damage to the lungs that can lead to severe complications or even death. According to the Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety & Health, water is a great way to help minimize dust as it helps damp down dust clouds, so be sure to have enough water available at all times.

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