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Competencies covered

MSMENV272: Participate in environmentally sustainable work practices

Air quality

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Clean air is something that most people take for granted.

But on building sites and in manufacturing workplaces there are many contaminants that can pollute the air if they're not kept under tight control.

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Volatile organic compounds

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that can evaporate into the air and cause serious environmental problems and chronic health conditions. They include formaldehyde, adhesives, paints, protective coatings and other solvents.

The best way to limit the amount of evaporation when you're not using these substances is to keep the containers well sealed.

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One of the most obvious airborne problems is dust. Some types of dust are toxic, particularly if they contain formaldehyde glues or other chemicals. Even common forms of dust can produce fallouts in the neighbourhood. And if people are exposed to them for a long time, they can cause health problems.

There are two main ways of managing dust that is generated in the workplace:

  • good housekeeping, and

  • collecting the dust as close to its production source as possible.
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A dust extraction system is the easiest way to control dust at its source.

The equipment can either be connected to a centralised unit, or individual machines can have their own systems.

You can also control dust build-up by sweeping or vacuuming the area.

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Note that some dusts require the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) while you're exposed to it.

If you're not sure whether you need to wear PPE, ask your supervisor before you begin to clean it up.

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Burning off waste products or rubbish can cause serious air pollution, especially when the waste contains plastics or other chemical compounds. Even ordinary paper and other wood-based products can be responsible for problem emissions and smoke haze.

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In general, open air burning is not allowed by local councils, particularly in metropolitan areas, unless you've got a permit.

Apart from the emissions it creates, open air burning can be a serious fire hazard in the hotter months of the year.

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Learning activity

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What types of activities do you undertake at work that release air pollutants, or have the potential to reduce the air quality?

If you don't directly engage in these sorts of activities, what products do you handle that could affect the air quality if they were not stored or disposed of in an appropriate way?

See if you can name one form of dust and at least one other example of an air pollutant.

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