In any remediation, pollution control, or waste minimization activity there exists the need to recognize and prevent occupational disease. When designing for chemical process pollution control and waste minimization, the engineer must consider the human element. Those designing processes for hazardous waste handling should consider the potential exposures of personnel operating the process. If engineers know of the potential adverse health effects of the hazardous materials and other agents, then the design can incorporate methods to reduce these effects on workers and nearby residents. In many cases, the design stage is the critical time to incorporate safety measures. During the design stage of a Superfund remediation project, the designer is responsible for understanding and complying with the boundaries of 29 CFR 1910.120 and for describing the reasons for the boundaries' locations , In addition, retrofitting a process is costly and time-consuming. Two examples of costly mistakes are the improvement of local exhaust ventilation in a chemical lab to reduce worker exposure to volatile organics each time the exposure limit decreases and the purchase of a less expensive, noisier motor that then requires a motor intake silencer to reduce the sound pressure level.
In some cases, the etiology of a disease is attributed to a known agent. If a process includes that agent, the design goal should be to reduce all exposures to the agent. By identifying the specific agents present at a site and including ventilation, material substitution, or isolation, the designer may prevent the possibility of occupational disease.
The recognition of occupational disease and the steps leading to it is the key element in the prevention of the disease. Many occupational diseases are attributed to specific etiology and therefore are relatively easy to identify. Physical agents such as electron beam sources that lead to mutations are easily identifiable. Other hazards arise from known exposures to identified air contaminants. For instance, eye and respiratory tract irritation arise from acute exposure to hydrogen sulfide in the petroleum industry. Asbestosis or lung cancer can result from years of handling asbestos insulation. Other work-related adverse health effects have multiple causes or unknown causes. For instance, increased renal cancer deaths in the petroleum and steel industries have not been related to a specific agent .
The fields of epidemiology and occupational medicine provide guidance in determining specific causes of disease. However, when dealing with hazardous material and emerging technology, there is a need to recognize potential sources of exposures at a specific site. Once the potential sources of exposure and disease are identified, prevention is the next step toward a safer workplace. However, identifying the potential dangers for hazardous waste workers is difficult because hazardous waste streams vary from site to site and may vary from day to day at any one site.
Of utmost importance in recognizing occupational disease is the identification of all agents present in the workplace that, alone or with other materials, are capable of causing adverse health effects. Agents are divided into two broad categories: physical and chemical. Common agents include noise, solvents, heavy metals, and temperature extremes. The list of harmful agents also includes ionizing radiation, infectious agents, and musculoskeletal stressors. At a typical hazardous waste site a single physical agent, such as vibration, may not pose a significant risk; however, in combination with other stressors it may have an additive or synergistic effect. For instance, workers required to wear personal protective equipment may be more susceptible to heat illnesses, rashes, and allergies.
For each physical task, answer the following questions: How close, how long, how often, and under what conditions? For each task or job, examine the workers' interaction with their equipment. Jobs that typically lead to physical ailments include those that require repetitive motions, awkward positions, prolonged lack of movement, and/or exposure to extreme temperatures. The combination of low temperature and repetitive motion have led to repetitive motion syndrome, for example.
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