The atmospheric pollution is caused by the air-borne particles and is the main cause of risks to health. It can be caused by dust, fumes and smoke. There are many substances at our workplaces which are suspended in the air in the form of particles. The body can reject or filter out the larger particles through the nose and the mucous membrane (thin tissue) of the respiratory tract which catch many of the particles. They are either coughed up or swallowed. The lungs also contain cells which to some extent remove particles that are inhaled.
The smaller the particles are, the further into the lungs they reach. Some dust can even enter as far as the tiny air spaces which make up the air sacs, thousands of which form a lung. The ability of the body to render inhaled particles harmless depends upon the size of the particles, the nature of the particles, the quantity of the particles, the time spent in that workplace.
The chemical composition of the substance is also of great importance. The internal body organs can be damaged by particles of some metals or metal alloys. Some examples are lead, manganese and chromium. The concentration of the particles, (i.e. the amount of dust and smoke present on the premises) is one of the key factors determining the extent of the risk. And also, smoking and other activities which reduce the body’s resistance to illness increase the risk of injury.
The most common types of air-borne particles found in workplaces are dust, fumes and smoke. They are formed when working with different materials. Inhaled dust accumulates in the lungs and causes a tissue reaction. This lung disease is called “pneumoconiosis”. It is still the most common incapacitating occupational disease.
Continued exposure to the dust increases the affected area of the lung and its breathing capacity is damaged. The air sac structure of these areas may deteriorate into ‘fibrous’ form and remain there as a permanent scar in the lung. Breathlessness and inability to work may result after many years of exposure to dust.
The air space is permanently destroyed once the fibrous changes develop in the lung and these changes are incurable. Examples of pneumoconiosis with various effects on the lung are silicosis caused by quartz dust and asbestosis, caused by asbestos dust. It is therefore vital to protect workers from high dust concentration.
Dangerous dust can also arise from unpaved roads and unswept factory floors. Quartz dust is produced when processing certain types of rocks. Silicosis is a possible consequence of exposure to quartz dust over a long period of time. This disease is characterised by a slow destruction of the lung tissue making it difficult to breathe. Many people have died from silicosis. Silicosis facilitates the development and spread of tuberculosis.
Asbestos is fibrous silicate used in various materials, e.g. insulating material for protection against heat and fire, building materials (walls, ceilings, etc.), sealing components in the undercarriage of motor vehicles, rubber seals, etc. Asbestos dust consists of thread-like fibres which penetrate the lungs and destroy the lung tissues.
Asbestos dust can cause the disease called asbestosis and this develops in the same way as silicosis. It can take decades before the first symptoms are noticed, including considerable difficulty in breathing and in many cases asbestosis can cause cancer of the lungs or air sacs.
Asbestos is used in several countries around the world, despite its danger to health. The use of asbestos should be forbidden all over the world due to the risks of lung cancer, stomach cancer, cancer of the bowels, cancer of the throat and the tumor illness called mesothelioma.
Asbestos is often present in buildings and ships and as fire-protective, sound and heat insulation, and as a filler in cement and plastic. Its other uses include brake and friction-plate linings in vehicles, machines and hoists.
Mining, processing, demolishing and other processes involving asbestos releases airborne dust which contains needle or thread-shaped asbestos particles. It is these free fibres that are a direct health hazard.
Asbestos if present in Industrial premises with both office and workshop divisions.
The following items contain asbestos
- Intake air ventilation (on roofs) with sound baffles and heat exchangers.
- Asbestos cement board
- Fire break walls, fire doors
- Heating and sanitary installations with furnaces, piping and gaskets (in cellars)
- Fire protection on steel beams
- Spark shields in electrical junction boxes etc.
- Tile adhesive
- Paint and glues
- The backing of plastic carpeting.
- Fumes and smoke
Fumes and smoke are also inhaled and can cause damage to the body. They are formed when various materials are exposed to intense heat, as in welding. For example, zinc and some other metals, when inhaled in a large quantity, are known to cause metal fume fever which develops about half a day after exposure.