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Costs must also be managed, with an eye toward long-term benefits; engineering controls, such as putting a new ventilation system in place, are usually more costly than administrative con- trols, but can reduce operational expense over time. New training and operating processes leave room for human error, and it takes only one forgotten step or moment of negligence to result in a workplace accident.
It helps to remember that not every perceived hazard is a disas- ter waiting to happen. From time to time, a client might say, “We should take an air sample.” A good response is, “Maybe, but let’s not go through that costly process unless we’re sure it’s necessary.” Some threats can be overhyped. For years, the media and many mold removal companies have publicized the notion that black mold is highly toxic and causes lung diseases; in truth, while some people may be more sensitive to it than others, scientific evidence does not support much of the health hazard information you may find in a quick internet search. Similarly, just because you’re seeing some dust coming from your air registers doesn’t necessarily mean that all your ductwork needs to be cleaned. It’s possible that the static charge from the air flow is simply causing a normal accumu- lation of particles to collect at the vents. Be wary, but also be aware.
The Next Step: Bring in Expert Help
I hope that this column has given my industry colleagues some in- sights into how non-hygienists can play their part in controlling po- tential workplace hazards. But as I said before, only some dangers
are visible. Many are not. Some hazardous substances have warning properties; ammonia, for example, has a strong smell that provokes an instinctive reaction: “I should handle this with care.” But natural gas is odorless, which is why pungent-smelling mercaptan is added to gas distribution systems so that leaks can be detected. A splash of phenol on your bare arm can be painful, but even more frightening is that it is absorbed by the skin and can result in a fatal poisoning just as readily as if you swallowed it.
In one client visit case with a spraying booth inspection, it be- came clear that technicians touched up pieces of equipment with solvents and powder coatings. These processes often involve com- plex two-component products, where reagents are mixed to cre- ate a chemical reaction. The technicians were unaware that out of more than 30 products they were using on a daily basis, three were far more hazardous than the others, and required completely dif- ferent protocols for their handling. At the end of the day, the man- ager was committed to the health and safety of his colleagues, but he might never have identified the potential danger on his own.
Just as WebMD is no substitute for a licensed medical profes- sional, a non-hygienist will only scratch the surface—especially in a complex site, such as a laboratory, manufacturing facility, or in- dustrial complex. Nevertheless, your watchful diligence, and that of your colleagues and staff, is a crucial first step.
Tom Burgess, MS, CSP, CIH, serves as Client Manager, Industrial Hygiene and Safety for T&M Associates.
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MAY 2020 | Occupational Health & Safety 31 4/6/20 11:32 AM
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