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Air pollution at work acts as an invisible killer

2021. júl. 13. / Michal Jirák

Aerosols - fine particles in the air - are equally dangerous to your lungs as a circular saw is to your fingers. But since they are practically invisible, many workers and safety technicians tend to underestimate them. Don't be like them; learn to choose the correct respiratory protection.

3 steps towards aerosol protection

1. Know the risk

Even in the mountains where the nearest smoke-stack is at a distance of tens of kilometres, the air contains substances and microparticles that are dangerous for your lungs. However, your lungs have inherent defence mechanisms.

But when the volume of these particles increases and your lungs are exposed to them too often, these defence mechanisms fail. And that is often the case at the workplace.

The level of risk depends on several factors:

  • Whether the air contains solid particles which form aerosols - dust (generated by the crushing of solid materials), fume (generated by the combustion of organic matters) and smoke (generated by the oxidation of organic substances);
  • What the concentration of these substances in the air is;
  • How long the employees are exposed to these substances.

2. Eliminate the risk

Before you start actually choosing a respirator, you should try to prevent the risks and reduce the risk of inhaling hazardous substances.

You can do so, for instance, by:

  • Providing a continuous air exhaust mechanism in the vicinity of the leak point of hazardous substances in the air;
  • Regularly and thoroughly cleaning the working space (avoid using compressed air);
  • Checking and cleaning the ventilation system;
  • Continuously monitoring the air quality at the workplace.

And if you do not have the technology available, ask your employees how they are feeling. They should immediately leave the workplace if:

  • they can smell an odour or flavour in the air,
  • they feel unwell, are dizzy or feel sleepy or confused all of a sudden,
  • they have an irritated nose or they suddenly get a runny nose.

3. Equip your staff with efficient protection

Filtering half masks are categorized based on the level of concentration their filter can deal with. However, the so-called FFP (Filtering Facepiece) will never protect you against vapours and gas.

Consequently, you can only use them in an environment with a sufficient oxygen level (O2 concentrations below 19.5% already constitute a threat to human health). Active carbon masks can help against bothersome odours, gases and vapours. But only in environments where the permissible exposure limit (PEL) and the maximum permissible concentration of dust in the air are not exceeded.

Filter class Application up into multiple PEL Protects against
FFP1 4x low concentrations of dust / aerosol
FFP2 12x medium concentrations of dust / aerosol
FFP3 50x high concentrations of dust / aerosol

 

Examples of activities and recommended filter classes

Work activity Type of particles Recommended protection
orting and disposal of waste, clearing out attic spaces - bacteria, mold, fungi, odours
- soil dust, mites
FFP2 + active carbon
FFP2
grinding, cutting, drilling, milling

- concrete, stone
- metal, rust
- softwood
- hardwood
- glass, resin, fiberglass
- old coatings
- gypsum

FFP2
FFP2
FFP2
FFP3**
FFP2
FFP2
FFP1*
welding - steel, zinc, welding fumes
- stainless steel, aluminium
FFP2 + active carbon
FFP3
handling with

- asbestos, lead
- soot
- cement

FFP3
FFP2
FFP1*
installation of insulation - mineral and glass wool insulation FFP3**
mining - coal, stone FFP2
crop production - grain dust, flour
- soil dust
- dust of dried plants (tea, herbs, coffee)
FFP1
FFP2
FFP1
contact with allergens - pollen, animal fur, mold, mites FFP2
contact with viruses and bacteria - viruses
- bacteria
FFP3
FFP3
environment - smog FFP2
textile industry - natural and synthetic textile fibres FFP1

* at higher concentrations FFP2

** at low concentrations FFP2

*** containing silicates FFP2

Filtering masks can be:

  • non-reusable (NR): for home use, such as when cutting wood or tearing down an old bathroom. They are not suitable for shift-long use;
  • reusable (R): they can be folding, with an exhalation valve for more comfortable breathing or shaped for long lasting use. They are suitable for shift operation in plants.

Note - this is only a recommendation. The type of protection you choose is up to you. Carefully decide what level of protection is required by your job, for example, according to the safety data sheet, which must contain every hazardous substance and mixture. In addition, it is also always necessary to properly read the instructions for the use of protective components to avoid damage to the airways. We already wrote earlier about the importance of the instructions for use and the safety data sheets.

The mask must fit perfectly to the face; otherwise it is useless

Unless the mask perfectly fits to your face, its effect is as good as zero. Therefore, you should always select the correct size and, ideally, have a smoothly shaven face. If you have long hair, tie it back and remove all jewellery. To make sure that the mask will always fit perfectly, choose a shapeable mask.

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