Pt. 1 - IN the MIX - Construction Safety and Gas Detection

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This is part one in a 4 part series to be posted over the next 4 weeks.

'Pointers for Construction Safety & Health compliance'
Rob Sant
Technical Products Manager,
Certified Air Safety, Vancouver Washington

Threats to our workers health and safety are numerous; an often overlooked hazard is the quality of the air they breathe. Whether simple nuisance odors like construction debris and dust or the fumes & vapors from compounds they’re mixing and applying; to things they may have no control over such as vehicle exhaust containing Carbon Monoxide (CO), or NOX Compounds from diesel motor exhausts, generators & compressors…Sometimes what’s “IN the MIX” can be TOXIC or even downright DEADLY.

What most people don’t realize is the need to monitor something as simple as carbon monoxide (CO) in the workplace, as this hazard is very common in most industries, but especially in the construction industry. Areas of concern include partially enclosed buildings sealed off from the cold and wind, the confines of a trenching job, or storage tanks and vessels. Propane or natural gas heaters in areas with poor ventilation can also be a major source of carbon monoxide. Worst of all, CO has a cumulative effect. The levels of CO in the bloodstream can build up over a period of hours, days, and even months to a toxic level. OSHA’s permissible exposure limits for CO may be lower than you think, with an acceptable 8 hour Time Weighted Average (TWA) of only 50 ppm (parts per million); That’s a pretty small amount to consider, especially if you are working behind a gasoline powered vehicle that can realistically produce exposure levels from several hundreds to several thousand parts per million with each breath.

If you or your employees are working in an area with questionable ventilation; exposed to space heaters or propane powered construction vehicles like forklifts, you should consider inexpensive personal CO detectors for OSHA compliance and your piece of mind. If you are using solvents or are applying coatings that off gas volatile hydrocarbons, you should include a “Lower Explosive Limit” (LEL) detector or sensor to measure for flammable or explosive vapors. If you are working in a confined space, you’ll need an Oxygen (O2) sensor added to the mix. If your working in enclosed spaces with chemical cleaners or solvents be sure to consult your MSDS sheets for the allowable concentrations of toxic compounds, recommended exposure levels (threshold limit values = TLV’s), and the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The MSDS sheet from a commercially marketed product is your best friend when determining how to comply with the myriad of OSHA respiratory protection and gas monitoring standards.

With so many OSHA regulations, where do we begin to search for help with gas detection or respiratory protection within confined spaces? Next week I'll post about OSHA's 'eTool' for construction and how to use it for gas detection and respiratory protection compliance in construction.

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