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HealthSheets™

Understanding Respiratory Hazards

Many tasks, both at work and at home, can cause respiratory hazards. The length of time you're exposed, how often you're exposed, and the concentration of the hazard all add to your risk of having health problems.

Dust, fumes, mist, smoke, and fog

These hazards occur in many ways. Dust can form when substances are broken down into smaller pieces. Fumes and smoke may be released into the air with temperature changes. Mist and fog may occur when substances are sprayed. Some of the tasks that may expose you to these hazards include:

  • Welding and torch cutting

  • Drilling and grinding

  • Smelting and furnace work

  • Painting and plating

  • Spraying and cleaning

  • Garden spraying

Gases and vapors

Gases and vapors may have no smell, taste, or color. Gases can be released with temperature changes or after a container is opened. Vapors may be released as a substance evaporates. Certain gas and vapor exposure, such as carbon monoxide, can quickly cause injury or even death. This is called an IDLH (Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health) situation. Some of the tasks that may expose you to these hazards include:

  • Cleaning with solvents

  • Heating certain liquids

  • Laboratory work

  • High-tech manufacturing

  • Chlorinating water

  • Food processing and ripening

  • Using gas-powered equipment indoors without proper ventilation

Oxygen deficiency

When oxygen levels drop below 19.5%, your life is at risk. Confined areas, areas with certain gases, or areas where there are fires can cause an IDLH situation. Some of the tasks that may lead to a life-threatening oxygen deficiency include:

  • Tank cleaning or maintenance

  • Working in manholes

  • Firefighting

© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.