The Air at Work

October is Healthy Lung Month, which is a good time for you to discuss airborne hazards and how your employees can protect their lungs. Start by discussing what causes lung disease on the job.

The American Lung Association lists several workplace breathing hazards:

  • Dusts
  • Environmental tobacco smoke (secondhand smoke)
  • Gases
  • Solvent mists and vapors
  • Welding fumes

Inform your workers of the airborne safety hazards in your workplace and train them to take these basic steps to protect themselves:

  • Recognize signs of possible breathing hazards:
    —Eye irritation
    —Persistent illness symptoms, such as cough or shortness of breath
    —Visible clouds of dust or fumes
  • Get the facts about possible breathing hazards:
    —Read and follow instructions on labels of materials you use, such as solvents, paints, adhesives, or insulation.
    —Read and follow instructions on material safety data sheets (MSDSs) for materials you use.

Encourage employees to talk with their supervisor if they see signs of breathing hazards or have questions about materials they use. Also explain the procedures for reporting if they are exposed to a breathing hazard so they can get medical attention—and so the company can take steps to prevent further exposures.

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The Air at Home

If time permits, you may also want to give brief instructions on preventing airborne hazards off the job. Animal dander, bacteria, dust mites, molds, pollen, and viruses in the air are major contributors to lung disease. Give your workers these tips on how to keep these air pollutants out of their homes:

  • Clean damp areas, such as bathrooms, kitchens, and basements, often, and make sure they are well-ventilated.
  • Use a dehumidifier in damp basements. Remember to empty the water  regularly to prevent mildew.
  • Dust and vacuum often, especially if you have furry pets. Groom pets outdoors or in well-ventilated spaces, such as garages or breezeways that are away from living areas.
  • Keep combustion appliances, such as dryers, furnaces, fireplaces, space heaters, stoves, and water heaters, cleaned and serviced regularly to prevent release of carbon monoxide or nitrogen dioxide.
  • Use proper personal protective equipment when working with hazardous household cleaning products, hobby materials, pesticides, paints, and solvents. Make sure usage areas are well-ventilated. Dispose of these products at local hazardous waste disposal areas.

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Why It Matters

  • According to a National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) study, occupational lung disease is the number one work-related illness in the United States.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in one recent year there were approximately 22,000 new cases of occupational respiratory illness.
  • According to the American Lung Association, lung disease is the third leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 330,000 people each year.
  • These statistics point to the need for better training and application of effective protections against hazardous airborne particles.

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