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How to Understand Air Pollution and be Prepared for High Risk Days

By Rob Chernish
Published: May 9, 2014 | Last updated: September 23, 2014 03:39:59
Key Takeaways

Learn why air pollution is a rising workplace risk factor and what you can do to stay aware of the dangers.

Source: Vladvitek/

Air Pollution is a general term used to describe the quality of air in the atmosphere by measuring the various levels of chemicals, particulates, and biological materials in the air. Some of these chemicals and particulates can be harmful in concentrated doses, and can cause diseases or even death.

The quality of air we breathe is measured using the Air Quality Index and can be found here for the USA and Canada:

USA Air Quality Index


Canada Air Quality Index

There are air quality indexes for countries all around the world, and while many of us pay little attention to this index currently, it may become something that we check almost as often as the temperature. For example, on March 18th, 2014, the Paris government had to shutdown driving in the city to help clean the air. The index was at dangerous levels and those with asthma and other breathing conditions were advised to stay indoors or use a mask if they were going outside.

In April 2014, The National Geographic Magazine notes that there are over 7 million tonnes of carbon released into the atmosphere on an annual basis. Most of the pollutants are from large industrial factories and processing plants, however, automobiles and forest fires greatly contribute to these levels as well.

While France suffers from poisonous air, especially Paris, there are other cities and countries that are even more harmful. For instance, China is by far the most toxic, with over 3.5 million tones of carbon being released from the country alone, and many of the residents of Beijing wear masks on a regular basis.

Many workers in the oil and gas industry, as well as other industries such as mining, logging, trucking, and any industry that deals with machines — should take the element of air pollution into consideration when doing a daily risk assessment. Since the air quality can impact levels of stamina in physically demanding jobs, it is important to consider air quality as a factor when addressing potential risks. Other things to consider are the levels of carbon monoxide at truck stops, city areas that are congested with idling vehicles, and other dangerous trap sites that have little air flow. This is a risk that will become increasingly prevalent in some areas where traffic emissions and other pollutants mingle in the air.

Much is being done to reduce emissions including the use of hybrid vehicles, new fuel cell technologies, and the consideration of all the world nations as they realize that air pollution is a problem that effects everyone. This has translated down to the business level and many industries and businesses are now being subject to emissions regulations, taxes, credits, and other carbon taxes. This may have an impact on how you do your daily job, as you may be forced to reduce emissions, or work in more dangerous atmospheric conditions.

To prepare yourself and ensure that the air is safe, consider the following:

  • Is there an air lock?

  • Which way is the wind blowing?

  • Are there large emission stacks, or other high emissions in the area?

  • Are there Scotty Air Packs or Air Masks available?

  • Do you have an air tester to test for harmful qualities?

  • Is there potential for an inversion where chemicals or pollutants can get trapped?

  • What is the air quality index for your area?

  • Are there any other factors to consider?

  • Does anyone on your crew have asthma?

Once you have made your preliminary assessments, then you can prepare for your outing. It is important to take the time to check the air quality when traveling to a new country, a new worksite, and to always make it a part of your safety check during regular safety meetings now, and in the future.


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Written by Rob Chernish

A writer from Canada with firsthand experience in Oil, Gas, Mining, and environmental safety.

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