Understanding Respiratory Hazards

Many tasks, both at work and at home, can cause respiratory hazards. The length of time you're exposed, how often you're exposed, and the concentration of the hazard all add to your risk of having health problems.

Dust, fumes, mist, smoke, and fog

These hazards occur in many ways. Dust can form when substances are broken down into smaller pieces. Fumes and smoke may be released into the air with temperature changes. Mist and fog may occur when substances are sprayed. Some of the tasks that may expose you to these hazards are:

  • Welding and torch cutting

  • Drilling and grinding

  • Smelting and furnace work

  • Painting and plating

  • Spraying and cleaning

  • Garden spraying

  • Mining

  • Agricultural work

Gases and vapors

Gases and vapors may have no smell, taste, or color. Gases can be released with temperature changes or after a container is opened. Vapors may be released as a substance evaporates. Certain gas and vapor exposure, such as carbon monoxide, can quickly cause injury or even death. This is called an IDLH (Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health) situation. Some of the tasks that may expose you to these hazards are:

  • Cleaning with solvents

  • Heating certain liquids

  • Working in a lab

  • High-tech manufacturing

  • Chlorinating water

  • Food processing and ripening

  • Using gas-powered equipment indoors without the right ventilation

Lack of oxygen 

When oxygen levels drop below 19.5%, your life is at risk. Confined areas, places with certain gases, or places where there are fires can cause an IDLH situation. Some of the tasks that may lead to a life-threatening lack of oxygen are:

  • Tank cleaning or maintenance

  • Working in manholes

  • Firefighting

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