Manufacturing plants can be dangerous places filled with machines and chemicals that seriously threaten human health. Both the noise of these machines and the chemicals they produce can pose a serious risk of hearing loss. Combined, these toxins are some of the most dangerous things about working in a manufacturing plant. Thankfully, there are ways to protect yourself from the dangers of working so closely with these poisons daily. Here’s why you need to know about them and how they work together to keep you safe at work.
What is Hydrogen Sulfide?
Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless gas that smells like rotten eggs or burning matches. It’s a toxic pollutant produced during a variety of industrial processes. Manufacturing plants using natural gas to run their equipment produce hydrogen sulfides, like oil and coal-fired power plants. Hydrogen sulfide is extremely toxic, as are its salts and other derivatives. The gas is flammable, corrosive, and fatal if inhaled in high enough concentrations. While some exposure to hydrogen sulfide is fairly common, it’s important to be aware of its risks. If working with or near equipment emitting hydrogen sulfide, it becomes likely to be exposed to large amounts of it. Breathing high concentrations of the gas for short periods of time can lead to immediate health effects, such as respiratory irritation, eye, and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, increased heart rate, and dizziness.
How Does Hydrogen Sulfide Affect The Human Body?
While hydrogen sulfide itself is highly toxic, exposure to it also leads to the formation of a compound called hydrosulfide, which reacts with the iron in human hemoglobin to form dangerous hydroxyl radicals that can lead to oxidative stress and cellular damage. In addition, hydrosulfide reacts with other compounds present in the blood to form sulfuric acid, causing acidosis and leading to cardiac arrhythmias, heart attack, and death. Researchers have also discovered that exposure to hydrogen sulfide can lead to neurological problems, including anxiety, depression, and cognitive impairment. These effects can last even after exposure to the gas has stopped.
Why Is Ammonia Dangerous?
Ammonia is a colorless gas or liquid with a strong odor. It is a common industrial and domestic chemical used in many processes, including fertilizer production, household cleaning products, and waste management. Exposure to high ammonia levels causes health problems, including respiratory problems, eye irritation, skin irritation, and burns. Breathing ammonia fumes can also affect the nervous system and cause headaches, drowsiness, nausea, and dizziness. Repeated exposure results in long-term health effects, such as hearing loss, lung damage, and skin irritation. Excessive amounts of ammonia in the air also cause what’s known as “blue baby syndrome,” when a child’s blood oxygen level drops dangerously low because of ammonia binding with water molecules in the blood and hemoglobin in the blood cells instead of oxygen.
How Are These Two Dangerous Chemicals Combining?
Hydrogen sulfide is a common byproduct of industrial chemical reactions and is found in the air at natural gas and oil refineries. When ammonia and hydrogen sulfide are mixed, they form a toxic compound called hydroxymethyl furfural, which is very toxic and found at high air levels in most manufacturing plants. The levels of hydroxymethyl furfural found in the air in manufacturing plants where ammonia is used are often three or four times higher than what is considered dangerous. Hydroxymethyl furfural is harmful to all types of cells and causes oxidative damage to cells that can lead to cell death. It also interferes with the process cells use to create energy. Because many human cells rely on this process to create energy and survive, exposure to Hydroxymethyl furfural can be deadly.
Other health risks
Besides the toxic fumes of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, manufacturing facilities may produce other toxic chemicals that can harm workers. These include benzene, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and hexavalent chromium. Many of these are byproducts of the chemical reactions that take place in manufacturing facilities. You can protect yourself by limiting exposure to these chemicals, wearing protective equipment when needed, and using proper ventilation systems to keep dangerous fumes out of the air.
Respirators and industrial safety hoods are two ways to protect workers from hazardous workplace conditions. Another method is controlling the air quality in the manufacturing environment. If your organization manufactures products, you likely have a mixture of fast-paced production lines and slower inspection processes. You might also have multiple shifts with different operational needs for ventilation and lighting at various points during the day. With many variables in play, manufacturers institute an air quality monitoring system to safeguard employees against contaminants. Read on to learn how an air quality control system can help you increase production, decrease OSHA recordable incidents, and cut costs by reducing energy use.
What is an Air Quality Control System?
An air quality control system continuously monitors the air quality in your manufacturing facility to ensure it meets certain standards. The system monitors a single room or a large campus housing multiple facilities. Air quality controls include industrial ventilation, filtration, and particle counting systems that monitor and rate the amount of particulate matter in the air. By monitoring the air quality in real time, you quickly identify contaminants and take steps to remove them. A system with sensors monitors the air for variables like temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, and the amount of dust, gases, and vapors in the air. They may also install sensors to detect gases like hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, common in industrial environments.
Why is Manufacturing Air Quality Control Important?
Air quality monitoring is the most cost-effective way to protect against contamination in the workplace. Poor air quality exposes workers to many hazards, like airborne contaminants, poor indoor air quality, and noise pollution. Contaminants can come from a variety of sources, including:
Benefits of an Air Quality Control System
Industrial ventilation, filtration, and other controls create a safe working environment for employees. Improving the air quality and bringing it within OSHA standards reduces recordable incidents, lowers workers’ compensation costs, and increases production. Here are some other benefits of an air quality control system:
Air quality control is a critical part of any manufacturing operation. Air quality monitoring systems allow you to track the level of contaminants in the air, from dust to gases like hydrogen sulfide. By installing the right controls, you can reduce the number of contaminants in the air, thereby improving the health and safety of your workers.
Manufacturing plants can be dangerous places filled with machines and chemicals that seriously threaten human health. Combined, these toxins are some of the most dangerous things about working in a manufacturing plant. Thankfully, there are ways to protect yourself from the dangers of working so closely with these poisons daily. These dangers can be reduced by learning about the safety risks present in your workplace, using good ventilation and filtration systems to keep dangerous fumes out of the air, and wearing proper personal protective equipment when working near dangerous chemicals or in environments where toxic fumes are present.