One in five employees will be exposed to hazardous substances in the workplace. Breathing in hazardous substances, vapours and fumes is one of the most underestimated occupational risks. The surrounding air could be polluted by all kinds of particles, or by a combination of particles.
The surrounding air could be polluted with:
- Solid particles: a collection of solid or liquid molecules: particulate matter, quartz dust, fibres, soot particles, smoke, micro-organisms, radioactive particles, spray and mist (aerosols).
- Vapours and fumes: single molecules spread across the air: organic and non-organic vapours and fumes, acid vapours, metal vapours, etc.
- Spray: fine droplets in the air, such as mist. For instance when spraying a liquid by use of an aerosol or spray can with cleaning agent.
Inhaling is usually done unconsciously and the consequences become noticeable in the long term, expressing as lung disease or cancer. Sometimes, exposure is immediately noticeable in the form of irritation, vomiting, intoxication, suffocation and poisoning.
Substances and vapours mainly have impact on the airways, but also other organs, like the skin and eyes could be damaged. The latter may also occur unconsciously, due to eating, drinking or smoking with dirty hands.