How to Understand Air Pollution and be Prepared for High Risk Days
Learn why air pollution is a rising workplace risk factor and what you can do to stay aware of the dangers.
Air pollution is a general term used to refer to the levels of chemicals, particulate matter, and biological materials in atmospheric air. The amount of pollution in the air is one of the major factors in measuring air quality. Not only that, but some of these pollutants can be harmful to human health and exposure to some of them can even result in permanent medical conditions.
Various countries issue an Air Quality Index, which attempts to quantify the level of air pollution in a given area. While most people don't currently pay much attention to the AQI, as the air quality worsens, it may soon become something that we check almost as often as the temperature. For example, on March 18th, 2014 the government of Paris issued a driving shutdown to help clean the air after its Air Quality Index reached dangerous levels. Those with asthma and other respiratory conditions were advised to remain indoors and wear a mask if they must step outside.
In April 2014, The National Geographic Magazine noted that there were over 7 million tons of carbon released into the atmosphere on an annual basis. Most of the pollutants are from large industrial factories and processing plants; however, automobile emissions and forest fires greatly contribute to these levels as well.
Workers in heavy industry should also take the AQI into consideration when performing their daily risk assessments. Since air quality can impact stamina, it can pose a serious problem to those with physically demanding jobs.
Other things to consider are the levels of carbon monoxide at truck stops, streets congested with traffic, and any site with limited air flow.
How to Prepare for Hazardous Air Quality
Steps are being taken to reduce air pollution, including the use of hybrid vehicles, the development of new fuel cell technologies, and various legislation that attempt to curb emissions. Regulations, taxes, and credits have also been put in place to discourage industries from polluting the air we all share.
But what can you do in the meantime?
One important step you can take is to simply keep track of the air quality, assess the risks, and be prepared when it reaches hazardous levels:
- Keep enough respirators on hand for every single employee
- Consider installing monitoring devices that will alert you if the air quality is worsening
- Take steps to improve the indoor air quality in your workplace so all workers can have a space to breathe freely if the outdoor air becomes too heavily polluted
- Have procedures and protocols for employees who have asthma and other respiratory conditions