A large number of safety and health concerns are now on the rise due to the existence of hazardous waste sites. The health hazards that evolve at these sites pose an alarming level of threat to the employees within an organisation. These hazards have a higher chance of manifesting into serious forms of injuries, and in some cases, death.
The level of these threats depend upon the nature of the work being executed within the premises of the site along with the very nature of the site. Some of these hazards may include −
Various factors differentiate other dangerous substances involved in an occupational workplace from a site possessing a hazardous surrounding. An uncontrolled site condition is definitely one of these major factors.
A few hazardous substances if not handled carefully may pose a threat to the humans working within those sites. On the contrary, inadequate control over the handling of these substances poses threat not just to the workers but also the public.
An array of different substances present in the site is another major factor that contributes to the concern within the hazardous setting. A single location might potentially contain hundreds or even thousands of chemicals at a certain moment of time.
Due to the vast number of substances that might have been present in a worksite, it is impossible to accurately assess all the chemical hazards with a higher frequency. Moreover, it is too difficult to even identify and trace every substance present within the area, specifically during the initial stages of the assessment.
Based on the inadequate information, a Project Team Leader will have no choice but, to enforce protective measures over his employees. Eventually, not only the hazards of direct exposure and the disoriented physical environment of the hazardous occupational site offer a threat to the workers, but also the stress of working while being clad in protective attire.
An amalgamation of the aforementioned situations creates a working environment that might pose an array of health hazards which −
May offer an immediate threat to the health and the life of the employees.
Maybe tough to identify.
Maybe different for different locations within the site and the tasks that are undertaken.
May change with the progression of the activities conducted within the site.
This chapter shows a glimpse of the general categories of hazards that might be held by the site. While pursuing a site, it is important to presume that all the hazards are already existent within the site, even before the site has properly been assessed.
A comprehensive protection against all potential threats can be ensured by conducting a site health and safety program. This program may encompass all the various possible hazards along with the various ways to overcome them. It should be subjected to frequent updates for new information, as the condition within the site changes.
In a hazardous occupational site, it is a primary concern to avoid direct contact with toxic chemicals. Generally, a site might contain an excess of chemicals in solid, liquid, and gaseous states of matter. A vulnerable person is most likely to be contaminated by these substances due to breathing, skin absorption, ingestion, or the contact of the chemicals with any wounds on his body.
A contaminating substance can damage at the contact point or might go into the bloodstream of the contaminated person and toxify a remote organ of his body. The remote organ may not be close to the contact point.
Generally, chemical exposures are of the following two types −
Acute chemical exposures generally start to show up symptoms immediately after the occurrence of the exposure, when a person interacts with an alarmingly high concentration of contaminants.
A chemical exposure is said to be chronic when a person is exposed to a low concentration of the contaminant, regularly for a relatively long period. The time required for these contaminants to exhibit symptoms depends on the number of exposures, the duration of each exposure, and the nature of the chemical itself.
For a specific contaminant, the symptoms shown in the case of an acute exposure might be very different from that of a chronic exposure. Whether chronic or acute, the aftermaths of an exposure might vary depending on the contaminant from being temporary and mild to being permanent fatal.
Some chemicals may lead to coughing, burning sensation, nausea, headaches, rashes, or teary eyes. Others might cause serious health issues without showing even the slightest bit of symptoms (mostly in case of chronic exposure).
These exposures have the potential to manifest into dangerously fatal diseases such as cancer, respiratory diseases, and ocular diseases, without showing any symptoms for several years. Moreover, there are certain toxic chemicals that are colourless, odourless, and untraceable by human senses.
These chemicals may affect the psychology, may dull the senses of a person, or might not show any symptoms at all immediately. This is why the senses of a worker cannot be relied upon to detect any potential toxic exposure.
Not only the nature of the chemicals exposed affect the nature of the exposure, but also the entrance point and the duration of the exposure play an important role in determining the degree of concern, the exposure raises. Moreover, it is also influenced by personal factors and habits such as smoking, alcoholism, medication, age, sex and nutrition levels.
Inhalation is the fastest route in the case of contamination in an occupational site. The chemical reagents lurking around such an environment pose an alarming threat to the lungs of the workers. Furthermore, the substances that might not be as harmful to the lungs might be transmitted to the other vulnerable parts of the body by mixing into the bloodstream.
The human sensory organs might not detect some chemicals, as they might be colourless as well as odourless. These chemicals might not show their symptoms immediately, but may exhibit toxic behaviour in the future.
Therefore, it is very important to invoke respiratory protection measures in such environmental settings that might potentially contain certain hazardous contaminants in the atmosphere.
It might sound surreal, but, there is a high chance that contaminants in the atmosphere might find their way into the bloodstream of a person through a minor puncture in his eardrum. So, proper check-ups must be conducted for the workers with punctured eardrums before getting into such environments.
Other potential routes for contaminants for getting into the human body are the eyes and the skin. The human skin might absorb some contaminants; these can get into the bloodstream, eventually making their way into the vulnerable organs. Abrasion, moisture, and cuts on the skin accentuate the risk of contamination.
Other potential routes that help contaminants to get into the human body are the eyes and the skin. Some contaminants might get absorbed by the human skin and get into the bloodstream, eventually making their way into the vulnerable organs. Abrasion, moisture, and cuts on the skin accentuate the risk of contamination.
The eyes are another vulnerable track for the chemicals as it is easy for airborne chemicals to get absorbed by moist surfaces. The chemicals are dissolved by the enzymes present in the eyes and get into the bloodstream from there.
Hence, it is advised to wear protective eye gear, avoid skin contact, avoid contact lenses, and evade any chemical contact. This will significantly diminish the risk of any potential contaminants getting into the eyes.
Ingestion is another primary potential route for contaminants from getting into the bloodstream. Even though it might not seem as significant a route as compared to the other potential routes, however, it is very crucial to have a good comprehension of the cause of this kind of exposures.
Petty personal habits such as smoking, eating, drinking, chewing gum or tobacco, applying cosmetics in the worksite elevate the risk of being contaminated through ingestion. Therefore, it is recommended to maintain proper isolation in canteens from the work site’s environment.
The final route for toxic chemicals to contaminate workers is by injection. This refers to the situation where the contaminants get into the bloodstream through punctures caused by wounds. To prevent this, a worker must wear safety shoes, avoid hazardous risks, and take adequate precautions based on his common sense.
The various potential causes of fires and explosions in waste sites include −
It may be too spontaneous for someone to foresee an explosion or a fire accident. However, such mishaps might occur due to various activities being carried out in the site such as mixing incompatible chemicals, introducing a fire or a spark into an inflammable substance, or mishandling containers of flammable substances.
The outbursts in a hazardous site, not only cause intense heat, smoke inhalation and airborne projectiles but also pose an immense threat to the outer environment. The fire hazards are as dangerous to the public outside, as for the workers working in the premises of the site.
Consider the following precautions to achieve proper protection against such hazards in occupational environments −
Adequately qualified field monitors must be employed for monitoring fire hazards in a potentially flammable workplace.
All materials that might potentially induce an ignition must be kept far away from the flammable environment.
It should be ensured that all the equipment used within the site must be non-sparking and safe
Implementation of safe practices must also be ensured while handling potentially flammable chemicals.
At sea level, the oxygen content of atmospheric air is about 21 per cent. When this percentage starts to drop below 16 per cent, the effects become distinctively apparent. Consider the following affects faced by a person due to a lack of Oxygen in the environment −
An oxygen concentration equal to 19.5 percent or lower, results in physiological changes such as errors in measurements. The primary reason behind oxygen deficiency is the displacement of oxygen due to the presence of other gasses, or the consumption of oxygen by the various chemical reactions in the worksite.
Confined spaces, in particular, are the areas most prone to oxygen deficiency. These places should be thoroughly monitored for the deficiency of oxygen every now and then.
Atmosphere-Supplying Respirators Equipment must be implemented by qualified professionals whenever oxygen concentration falls below 19.5 per cent by volume.
One or more of the following three harmful types of radiations are emitted by radioactive materials −
Alpha radiations have a minimal ability to penetrate and can easily be stopped by clothes, but if alpha radiation inflicted materials are ingested, the situation might get fatal. Thus, although alpha radiations pose a very minimal threat to the human body, they must not be taken lightly and must be properly dealt with.
Beta radiation is capable of inflicting serious skin damage like rashes and burns and can damage the blood cells that are present just beneath the skin. Like alpha radiation, beta radiations are even more harmful if ingested or inhaled. The implementation of protective clothing, good personal hygiene, and adequate decontamination processes are advised to prevent beta radiation.
Gamma radiations can easily pass through clothes as well as human tissues and are capable of inflicting serious permanent damage to the human body. Even chemical protecting clothing has little to no effect against gamma radiations. However, the implementation of proper respiratory equipment and other protective instruments can reduce gamma radiation damage significantly.
It is recommended to consult a physicist in the case the radiation level is discovered above that of the natural background. In case, the radiation level goes above 2 mrem/hr, all the activities must be shut down immediately and the premise must be evacuated. The premise must be closed until the physicists deem the site to be fine for reactivation.
Research facilities and hospitals generate wastes that might contain infectious organisms that are very hazardous for the personnel within a site. As in the case of chemical hazards, these harmful organisms might be traversed through the air, water, or food. Other dangerous biological substances that might be harmful to the employees within an organisation include −
The use of protective clothing and respiratory protection can immensely help in reducing the chances of contamination. Moreover, an already exposed body part or an equipment can be disinfected by implementing simple remedies like thorough washing and scrubbing.
Occupational sites might contain a plethora of hazards concerning safety such as −
Ditches and holes
Carelessly placed objects like drums, boards, barricades, or other objects
Pointed and sharp objects like pieces of glass, nails, and metallic pieces
Steeply elevated grades
Unstable infrastructure such as fragile deteriorating walls, weathering ceilings, etcetera
There are some safety hazards that are caused due to the nature of the job that is undertaken. For instance, an additional hazard to the workers working with heavy equipment is created due to the weight of the equipment itself. Another example is the use of protective attire that might hinder a person’s agility, eyesight, hearing, and smell, thus elevating the risk for an accident to occur.
The accidents that involve physical infliction may cause direct injury because of the damaged protective gear, or the risk of an explosion caused due to the mixing of chemicals. The site workers should always be aware of potential safety hazards and should alert their supervisors if they come across any new hazards so that, the hazard can be encountered at the earliest.
An alarming amount of risk of electrocution and shock to the workers is offered within the workplace by electrical transmission equipment such as overhead power lines, buried cables, and downed electrical wires.
Various low voltage equipment having proper earthing along with proper isolation from water and corrosion must be used within a site to reduce the risk of electrical hazards. To take this a step further, the weather around a workplace must be monitored and the work should be suspended if a thunderstorm is predicted around the workplace. Undischarged electrical capacitors might also inflict a heavy shock upon a person. Proper earthing can easily solve this problem.
Stress due to heat is a very dangerous hazard, specifically to the workers who donn protective attire. The same gear that protects them from chemical exposure also hinders them from properly dissipating heat and moisture from their body. Therefore, personal protective clothing, contrary to its name, can raise quite a safety concern.
Stress due to heat might occur within a minimal time of around fifteen minutes depending on the environment within the workplace. The danger posed by heat stress can be equivalent to the threat caused by chemical exposure to a worker.
The stress might show up with minor symptoms like rashes, drowsiness, discomfort and cramps, and eventually morph into the impaired ability to function, which in turn, potentially poses a threat to the co-workers. Heat stress can also lead to intense suffocation and even death. To prevent heat stress from building up, the following precautionary measures can be implemented −
Excessive, unnecessary protective gears should be spared.
Careful training must be given to the workers wearing safety equipment.
Their health should be regularly checked up.
The equipment should be properly monitored.
There must be adequate breaks and the span of work must be divided into pieces rather than being one constant continuum.
The fluids used in these gears must be replaced frequently.
In the case of a workplace having a very low temperature, and low wind chill factor, there is a consistent risk that the workers might get hypothermia, frostbite or any physical defect. The following tips might help in guarding against these −
A humongous amount of noise is created while working around heavy machines. The following are some of the effects of noise −
Annoyed, distracted, and startled workers.
The threat to the ears of the workers that might temporarily or permanently result in a loss of hearing.
A huge deal of interference in communication that might hinder the reach of a potential warning against another danger.
If the employees are monitored to be exposed to a noise of 90 dBA (decibels on the A-weighted scale) for a time span of more than 8 hours, the administration must take charge and implement certain measures such as a hearing conservation program.