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Air Quality in the Warehouse

20 December, 2012

Workers within factories and warehouses are exposed to substantial amounts of chemicals and pollutants, making air quality a critical safety issue for anyone working within these environments. Air quality has an immense impact on a person’s health, and therefore, their ability to work. There are a number of toxic gases that can be found within a warehouse, such as, nitrogen oxides, NO and NO2, which are emitted by diesel vehicles. Another risk is toxic mould which can also grow in any damp poorly ventilated areas of a warehouse. Out of all toxic gases found within a warehouse, carbon monoxide is the most predominant and is known as the ‘silent killer’ as it is tasteless, odourless and invisible.

As there is a significant risk factor that goes along with having these toxins in your warehouse it is important to know more about them. This blog will determine the health effects of poor air quality along with its causes and how it can be prevented.

Toxic gas sign

Health Effects:

Although air pollutants are invisible, they can have a serious impact on our health. Air pollutants can cause respiratory diseases and even cancer, along with other health effects.

As carbon monoxide is the most prevalent of toxic gases within the warehouse, carbon monoxide poisoning is a significant threat. Organs such as the brain and heart are essentially starved during CO poisoning.  Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are flu like and nonspecific, they include; dizziness, weakness, headaches, nausea, visual disturbance, confusion, chest pain and unconsciousness.

Symptoms of CO poisoning

Carbon Monoxide Exposure Standard

The current Australian standard which is set by the Australian Safety and Compensation Council, limits exposure of carbon monoxide to 30 parts of carbon monoxide per million parts of air averaged over eight hours, or 34 milligrams per metre cubed. This standard applies in Victoria.

What causes poor indoor air quality?

Factors that result in poor indoor air quality within a warehouse include:

• Exhaust fumes from constant pick up and drop off of goods.
• Chemical emissions from manufacturing processes or raw material.
• Poor ventilation, particularly in winter when warehouses are sealed off from the cold.
• Poor upkeep of ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems.
• Dampness and moisture due to leaks, flooding or high humidity.
• Forklift idling or length of operation.
• Failure to verify emission tests of rental forklifts.

exhaust fumes

How can indoor air quality be improved?

Note: Building ventilation alone should not be relied upon to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning when diesel forklifts are driven inside. 

Forklift Maintenance:

It is important to ensure your forklifts are not emitting a large amount of exhaust fumes. Quarterly testing is required due to changes in seasonal temperatures, along with forklift usage and mechanical conditions such as, tune ups, worn out engines, as well as leaking exhaust systems. A small leak in the exhaust can result in a significant build-up of carbon monoxide inside the warehouse.

Carbon monoxide levels should be measured near the tailpipe and adjustments should be made to the throttle and fuel delivery system in order to ensure the cleanest possible burn.

Monitoring:

Low cost monitoring and testing along with confidential reports over an eight hour period is important for record keeping if carbon monoxide becomes a health or liability issue within your warehouse.

Monitoring options include:
• Installing carbon monoxide detectors with automatic sensors, incorporated with ventilating fans that automatically open and close a dock door.
• Routine carbon monoxide exhaust checks preformed in house with hand held carbon monoxide gas analysers.
• Personal electronic detectors with alarms which can be used for every day monitoring. (When buying a monitor pay attention to measurement accuracy, maintenance and calibration procedures).

Co dtector

Employee Training:

It is critical that all employers and employees understand and are aware of the possible sources of poor air quality and have the resources necessary to recognise and control workplace hazards.

Forklift mechanics and operators need to be trained in carbon monoxide and the health risks associated to exposure in order to prevent poisonings.

Catalytic converter:

Installing a catalytic converter on a propane forklift will help in drastically reducing carbon emissions within your warehouse.

Catalytic convertors work to convert harmful exhaust emissions of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides into less harmful emissions of nitrogen, water vapour and carbon monoxide.

3 way Catalytic converter

Electric Forklifts:

Using electric forklifts other than diesel forklifts will significantly reduce the levels of carbon monoxide within your warehouse. Electric forklifts do not emit carbon monoxide and should be used in small and enclosed warehouses with little or no ventilation.

Air quality within a warehouse is vital to one’s health and therefore the productivity of your business. It is important that the air quality is monitored and measures are taken to prevent levels of toxic gases, such as carbon monoxide, rising within your warehouse.

Electric forklift

What measures have you taken to prevent poor air quality within your warehouse?

This is our last blog post for 2012, thank you to all our readers and people who have commented. We will be back in early Jan. Merry Christmas and Happy new year!

 

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