Physical Hazards

Physical Hazards

A physical hazard is the exposure to physical agents capable of causing injuries and diseases, such as noise, vibration, electromagnetic radiation, electricity and temperature extremes.

This type of hazard exists within the environment and can harm the body without necessarily touching it. Physical Hazards include:

The noise is an undesirable and unpleasant sound in which its intensity is measured in decibels (dB). Besides intensity, the duration, impulsiveness and frequency are also factors related to how hazardous the noise can be. Not all noises are equal, being possible to distinguish 3 types:

  • Continuous: the type that is constantly produced by different equipment, with low frequency variations
  • Intermittent: sporadic situations of increases and decreases in noise, either by equipment that is not used continuously or by transient situations, such as a train or airplane
  • Impulsive: an instantaneous and surprise sound, usually common in manufacturing and construction

The vibration agent is divided in two different hazards regarding the type of vibration, hand-arm vibration and whole-body vibration. These vibrations affect the body and are more among construction, foundries and heavy steel fabrication workers.

  • • The hand-arm vibration (HAV) is related to mechanical vibrations transmitted to the hand-arm system through continued use of hand-held power tools. The hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), also known as Raynaud's Phenomenon, is a condition usually originated from the use of pneumatic and electric tools such as grinders and chainsaws
  • • The whole-body vibration (WBV) are mechanical vibrations transmitted to the whole organism. Whole-body vibration syndrome (WBVS) is a disorder that is mainly common in machinery workers that operate buses, trucks forklifts, heavy machinery and other vehicles that produce large shocks and jolts through the seat or feet of workers

Optical Radiation

Due to dissimilar sources of exposure and distinct consequences, optical radiation is categorized in two types: natural and artificial.

The natural radiation is linked to the sunlight, separated in three types of radiation, ultraviolet (UVR), visible (Vis) and infrared (IR), being the ultraviolet the most significant from the health perspective. The artificial optical radiation (AOR) wavelength range is comprehended between 180 nm and 3000 nm and is associated with the lights originated from artificial sources as visible, ultraviolet, and infrared or lasers, affecting mostly the skin and eyes.

Electromagnetic (non ionising)

Electromagnetic fields (EMF) are present in everywhere in our environment being a combination of invisible electric and magnetic fields of force. They are an area of energy that surrounds electrical devices. EMF are not only generated by natural phenomena but also by human activities, mainly through the use of electricity.
Human-made sources of EMF (example: X rays, power sockets, TV antennas, mobile phone base stations) reverse their direction with time at a specific frequency, ranging from high radio frequencies (such as used by mobile phones), through intermediate frequencies (such as generated by computer screens) to extremely low frequencies (such as generated by power lines).

Ionizing radiation

The ionizing radiation is the emission of energy capable enough of remove electrons from an atom, ionizing it. This transference of energy can occur in the form of waves (such as X-ray and gamma) or particles (alpha and beta). This radiation has several uses and applications, with benefits mostly in the energy production and medicine.

Due to the severity of this radiation, no one under 18 years can be assigned to any type of work that results in their exposure.

To access the workers exposure, it is used the Sievert (Sv), the unit of equivalent or effective dose, which corresponds to one joule per kilogram. The workers should be exposed to a limit of 100 millisieverts (mSv) during a consecutive five-year period, with a maximum of 50 mSv per year.

Electrical equipment is “any equipment designed for use with a voltage rating of between 50 and 1000 V for alternating current and between 75 and 1500 V for direct current”. The equipment shall be certified in accordance with the CE marking.

Despite the fact that anyone can be affected by electrical equipment, work injuries are more common among: welders, line workers, electricians, meter readers, mechanics, maintenance workers and plant and equipment operators.

Working in extreme temperatures, whether hot or cold, can result in thermal risk, as both can cause discomfort, disturbing productivity and reducing worker concentration, leading to the increased likelihood of accidents.

By law, there is not a minimum or maximum working temperatures, while different guidelines suggestions are around 16º C (13º C if the work involves physical activity) and 30º C. However, there are more factors influencing the ability to work within the reach of these temperatures, such as humidity, wind speed, radiant heat sources and clothes, which also need to be considered.

Noise risks

are caused by:

High noise levels

(potencial sources include playing a musical instrument, attending concerts, using personal headphones)

and have multiple

EFFECTS

During work hours, affects the perception and awareness of the environment, and hinders the communication

common symptoms / injuries can be:

Ringing, whistling, buzzing, humming...

Vibration risks

are caused by:

Repeated exposure to high levels of vibration

and have multiple

EFFECTS

HAV: production of large shocks and jolts through hand-held power tools


WBV: production of large shocks and jolts through the seat or feet

common symptoms / injuries can be:

HAVS - vascular, bone or joint, neurological or muscular pain and/or disorders, such as:

  • attacks of whitening of one or more fingers when exposed to cold
  • tingling and loss of sensation in the fingers
  • loss of light touch
  • pain and cold sensations between periodic white finger attacks
  • loss of grip strength
  • bone cysts in fingers and wrists

WBVS: may cause vascular, bone or joint, neurological or muscular disorders

  • lower-back morbidity and spine trauma ('back pain')

Optical, electromagnetic and ionizing radiation risks

are caused by:

Optical

Electromagnetic

Ionizing

Natural radiation:

linked to the sunlight and separated in three types of radiation - ultraviolet (UVR), visible (Vis) and infrared (IR), being the ultraviolet the most significant from the health perspective)

  • Skin exposure, mainly through absorption, reflection and scattering mechanism
  • Artificial radiation:

    comprehended between 180 nm and 3000 nm and is associated with the lights originated from artificial sources as visible, ultraviolet, and infrared or lasers, affecting mostly the skin and eyes

  • Welding, paint drying ovens, melting of metal and glass, medical equipment (such as lasers, neonatal phototherapy lamps, sterilization and surgical lights) and other sources presented in various offices and workplaces like lamps, display screens, scanners and LED, but, with exposure times around the eight-hour work day and low radiation emission, generally receive less consideration
  • Radio waves, microwaves, computer, cell phones, electrical wirings, power lines

    Internal: happens when a radionuclide enters the bloodstream (inhaled, ingested, by injection) and stops when is eliminated, either by treatment or expelled from the body;

    External: occurs when in contact with airborne radioactive substantial, with the possibility of removing it by a simple wash. Other external exposure may result from medical devices.

    The most common human-made sources of ionizing radiation are medical devices, including X-ray machines in industrial and medical/clinical environments.

    and have multiple effects:

    Optical

    Skin damage (erythema)


    Sunburns


    In severe cases, promotes the progression of cancerous cells

    Electromagnetic

    Depending on the frequency, it can cause direct biophysical effects or indirect effects:

    Direct effects:

    Thermal effects with the heating of human tissues


    Non-thermal effects, such as muscle, nerves or sensory organs stimulation


    Limb currents

    Indirect effects:

    Objects nearby of magnetic fields


    The disturbance that they can cause to medical electronic equipment


    Risk of projection of ferromagnetic objects


    The initiation of electro-explosive devices, fire and explosions resulted from the ignition of flammable materials


    Contact currents



    To assess the outcome of the electromagnetic fields concerning the health of the workers it is referred the exposure limit values (ELV)’s regarding biophysical and biological effects:

    • Static fields (0 Hz)
    • Extremely Low Frequency Fields (0-300 Hz)
    • Intermediate Frequency Fields (300 Hz – 100 kHz)
    • Radio Frequency Fields (100 kHz – 300 GHz)

    In almost all the different situations the human body can adjust himself, not being dangerous. Yet, depending on the frequency, strength and duration of the exposure, can eventually lead to severe health effects, in particular to specific workers:

    • Individual with passive or active medical devices
    • Individuals using body worn medical devices
    • Pregnant women

    Ionizing

    Prolonged exposure to this radiation leads to the development of cancer and DNA mutations

    common symptoms / injuries can be:

    Optical

    Eye exposition may damage the cornea and lens and in severe cases, blindness. As for the skin can start with redness, burning and blisters, ending with the acceleration of age and different types of skin cancer

    Electromagnetic

    Fatigue, headache, insomnia, dysesthesia, irritability, lack of concentration

    Ionizing

    Skin burn, lens injuries (typically manifested as cataracts), sterility, radiation sickness, IUGR/Teratogenesis/Fetal Death

    electrical equipment risks

    are caused by:

    Negligence and lack of maintenance, such as:

    • Contact with water (example: spilled bottle of water in the floor)
    • Damaged electric devices as plugs, cables, tools

    Electrical circuits overload: Excessive extension and disorganised use of cables

    and have multiple

    EFFECTS

    Electric shock


    Electrical and thermal burns


    In more extreme situations, cause fires


    common symptoms / injuries can be:

    Electrical and thermal burns (with relevante aesthetic, functional and social impacts), heart problems, vascular lesions, polytrauma, thrombosis...

    Thermal environmental risks

    are caused by:

    Extreme temperatures cause diverse types of risks. In hot places as foundries, commercial kitchens and laundries, the work rate, humidity and clothes affects the risks that workers are subjected to. Outdoor working during summer may also pose a treat.

    The main causes of cold temperatures may be associated with working in cold store for deep-frozen products or storage, preparation and transportation of fresh alimentary products. Outdoor tasks or unheated spaces during winter, despite less severe, may also result in injuries.

    and have multiple

    EFFECTS

    Concerning to hot places: muscle cramps, heat rash, thirst, dizziness, fatigue, headache, fainting


    Concerning to cold places and as the temperature continues to drop, hypothermia signs begin to appear, with more severe consequences, as: shivering, goose bumps, muscle ridigity and incoordination, inability to walk, incoherent and irrational behaviour, faint breathing, heart dysrhytmias.

    common symptoms / injuries can be:

    Hot places: heat stress, dehydratation, inability to concentrate and stay alert;

    Cold places: Non-freezing injuries (chilblain, immersion foot and trenchfoot), freezing injuries (frostnip and frostbite).

    In such low temperatures, the first parts of the body being affected are toes, fingers, ears and nose are in more danger, since the body preserve heat near internal organs. [78]

    The prevention of such risks involve:

    #1

    Eliminate the noise source

    #2

    Replace a noisy machine with quieter ones

    #3

    Engineering controls by treating the noise at source (e.g. use of sound dampeners or silencers, noise barriers and isolation)

    #4

    Administrative controls (e.g. training and education, job rotation, design rosters to reduce the number of workers exposed to noise)

    #5

    Use of personal protective equipment (e.g. earmuffs, earplugs)

    To assess the workers exposition to noise during their work there are three physical parameters (i) (Directive 2003/10/EC, Article 2):

    #6

    Peak sound pressure (ppeak) (LCpico)

    #7

    Daily noise exposure level (LEX,8h)

    #8

    Weekly noise exposure level (LEX,8h)

    The daily noise exposure levels and peak sound pressure regarding the exposure limit and exposure action also have fixed values:(i) (Directive 2003/10/EC, Article 3):

    #9

    Exposure limit values: LEX,8h = 87 dB(A) and LCpeak = 200 Pa

    #10

    Upper exposure action values: LEX,8h = 85 dB(A) and LCpeak = 140 Pa

    #11

    Lower exposure action values: LEX,8h = 80 dB(A) and LCpeak = 112 Pa

    Concerning the daily exposure limit and action values, they are defined in the 2002/44/EC to an 8 hour working period. To reduce the risk of HAVS is recommended to use anti-vibration tools and gloves, alongside with some work practices, such as:

    #1

    A minimum strength hand grip that still allows the safe operation

    #2

    Wear enough clothes to be stay warm

    #3

    Avoid continuous exposure

    #4

    Rest the tool on the workpiece when possible

    #5

    Do not use faulty tools

    #6

    Perform regular maintenance to the tools

    #7

    Daily exposure limit value is 5 m/s2

    #8

    Daily exposure action value is 2.5 m/s2

    For the whole-body vibration:

    #9

    Limit the exposure time the workers are exposed to vibrating surfaces

    #10

    Mechanically isolate the vibrating source

    #11

    Perform regular maintenance to the equipment

    #12

    Install vibration damping seats

    #13

    Daily exposure limit value of 1.15 m/s2, or a vibration dose value of 21 m/s1.75

    #14

    Daily exposure action value of 0.5 m/s2, or a vibration dose value of 9.1 m/s1.75

    Optical Radiation

    Despite the occupational importance related to outdoor tasks, the natural optical radiation safety procedures are usually provided by health authorities. The most common tips to minimize the natural radiation risk are:

    #1

    Use of sunscreens creams and lotions, especially in parts of the body that are not easy to shade from the sun

    #2

    Use protective clothing, particularly in vulnerable areas of the body, e.g. neck

    #3

    Try to work and take breaks in shaded places

    The exposure limits depend on three factors: wavelength, part of the body affected and the duration of the exposure

    Safety Wear:

    • |
    • Safety goggles

    • |
    • Face shields

    • |
    • Visors

    • |
    • Protective clothing

    • |
    • Gloves


    Electromagnetic (non ionising)

    Safety Wear:

    • |
    • Shielding garments

    • |
    • Gloves

    • |
    • Shoes


    • The use of such equipment is recommended, but have the limitation of working at specific frequency ranges.

    The risk of EMF in the workplace is going to be always present, since it is nearly impossible to reduce the exposure to zero with the constant presence of mobile phones or wifi networks, among other EMF sources. However, for more intense exposures, mitigation (+) measures can be used:

    #1

    Arrange of the working area

    #2

    Workers professional and safety training

    #3

    Shifts rotation, with the presence of signalling in the areas of risk

    #4

    Act on the source of EMF

    #5

    Use shielding and grounding to try to control and reduce the emissions

    Ionizing radiation

    Safety Wear:

    • |
    • Shielding garments

    • |
    • Gloves

    • |
    • Thyroid protection collar

    • |
    • Shoes


    Reduce the exposure time to the radiation source:

    #1

    Increase the distance to the source, moving to a further place

    #2

    Be behind shielding, as barriers of lead or concrete are usually used around radiation devices to reduce the radiation around them

    #3

    Shifts rotation, with the presence of signalling in the areas of risk

    #4

    Use of exposure monitoring equipment (dosimeters)

    Safety Wear:

    • |
    • Safety glasses

    • |
    • Face shields

    • |
    • Safety helmet

    • |
    • Safety shoes

    • |
    • Insulating (rubber) gloves with leather protectors

    • |
    • Insulating sleeves

    • |
    • Flame resistant clothing

    • |
    • Individual insulation mat


    • Besides the PPE, these workers should also use insulating protective equipment, gear that is needed for their task, but it is not worn, such as:

    • |
    • Insulating (rubber) line hose, blankets, and hoods

    • |
    • Insulating barriers made of fiberglass or phenolic resin

    • |
    • Live-line tools such as hotsticks, switchsticks and shotgun sticks

    #1

    Carry out stress-free interventions whenever possible

    #2

    Sensitization and professional training

    #3

    Elaboration and compliance of procedures of performance

    To prevent heat related injuries:

    Safety Wear:

    • |
    • Fresh cotton clothes

    • |
    • Sunscreen, sunglasses and hat (when working outdoor)


    #1

    Control the temperature by using fans or air conditioner

    #2

    Prevent dehydration by providing and encouraging to drink fresh water

    #3

    Use of mechanical aids to assist on the tasks and reduce work rate

    #4

    Implement job rotation, regular rest breaks and acclimatisation areas

    #5

    Use of light clothing for free air movement

    To prevent cold related accidents:

    Safety Wear:

    • |
    • Thermal clothes (winter coat, trousers, gloves, cap)


    #6

    Wear several layers of loose clothing

    #7

    Protect ears, face, hands and feet

    #8

    Use waterproof and insulated boots

    #9

    Avoid direct contact between cold metal surfaces and skin

    #10

    Implement job rotation, regular rest breaks and acclimatisation areas

    pie chart which represents the 15% of EU workers who have to handle dangerous substances as part of their jobs and the 15% who report breathing in smoke, fumes, powder or dust at work

    16%

    of hearing loss

    results from occupational noise

    Researchers studied and adjusted the data by occupational category and economic sector, estimated that globally, an average of 16% of the hearing loss resulted from occupational noise.

    Time to test if you're a master of Physical Hazards!

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