Definition - What does Hazardous Atmosphere mean?
A hazardous atmosphere is defined as a dangerous atmosphere that exposes workers to the risk of death, incapacitation, injury, acute illness, or an inability to self-rescue. This atmosphere can arise due to flammable gas, high airborne combustible dust, lack of oxygen, or any other deadly atmospheric condition.
A simple work area can impose death if it is recognized as a confined space. Therefore, OSHA has suggested that the workspace should be monitored accurately to ensure the protection of workers.
Safeopedia explains Hazardous Atmosphere
Flammable contents, toxins, and an oxygen-deficit atmosphere are major causes of a hazardous atmosphere. Any waste, chemical, or toxic-releasing product can give off poisonous gases and contaminate the environment. For instance, cutting, welding, and scraping produce toxic vapors that can be inhaled by workers, causing severe respiratory issues. These vapors pair with natural compounds and linger in the air, leading to constant absorption of toxic compounds by workers.
A workspace with less than 19.5% oxygen is known as oxygen-deficit, which makes the atmosphere suffocating and jeopardous for workers. Oxygen levels can decrease for reasons such as welding, cutting, or the running of any chemical activity. The situation can worsen if the levels of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide mount up in the air. For example, rainwater passing over limestone causes carbon dioxide to emerge and reduce the level of oxygen.
If the oxygen level rises beyond 22%, the atmosphere becomes flammable, which may result in the burning of hair and clothes. Furthermore, volatile organic compounds are known to make the atmosphere combustible. Another flammable gas is methane, which is produced every time you break down the components of an organic material.
Hazardous atmospheres more often than not go unnoticed until it’s too late. In fact, every year 60% of workers lose their lives due to deadly work atmospheres. According to OSHA guidelines, all workers who work under excavation where perilous components are likely to be present should be provided with a respiratory system and ventilation. The atmosphere must be tested before employees can enter if a workspace is projected to have hazardous components that can result in severe injury or death.
If any person enters a dangerous atmosphere, it is necessary to have all preventive emergency equipment. No employee (except for emergency workers or rescue-operation workers) should be allowed to enter if the atmosphere is oxygen-deficit, and the rescue team or any other person required to work within the threatening atmosphere must have safety equipment and a respiratory apparatus to breathe normally.