CBRN Gear That Improves Conditions of Industrial Workers

CBRN Gear That Improves Conditions of Industrial Workers

by Aden Tate

Industry is the backbone of the economy of any nation. But if the conditions of industrial workers are subpar, you won't have much of an industry for long. If you aren't producing something as a country, you are playing a high-stakes game with exceptional risk. Thankfully, some are welders, carpenters, shipbuilders, and other producers. Were it not for them, the modern world would look very different. Because of this, staying healthy at work for these employees is vital not only for these individuals' personal lives but also for the nation's safety.

And here's the catch: If you work in an industrial setting, you will naturally be exposed to dangerous particulates and vapors that are a natural part of manufacturing. Don't feel that protecting yourself from these is worthwhile? Then you won't work for long.

So what are some of these risks, and what can we do to protect ourselves against them? Let's take a look…

  • 01

    What Conditions of Industrial Workers Place Them at High Risk?

  • 02

    Unhealthy Conditions of Industrial Workers? How Can You Protect Yourself?

  • 03

    Enjoy Your Job

  • 04

    Frequently Asked Questions

What Conditions of Industrial Workers Place Them at High Risk?

You can only make the proper decisions to stay healthy at work if you know the respiratory risks in industrial settings. Here are some of heavy industry's most common chronic respiratory disease causes.

Silica Dust

The problem with silica dust is that it's everywhere. Whether you are working with concrete, plowing dusty fields, sandblasting, or grinding, all of these tasks (and many others) involve a high degree of exposure to silica dust.

Breathe in enough of this dust over a long enough period, and you can end up with silicosis, a form of lung disease.

Lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney disease, autoimmune diseases, and an increased risk of contracting tuberculosis are all associated with breathing in large amounts of silica.

(For more information on the dangers of breathing silica dust, make sure you see what we have to say about it in this article here.)

As such, you want to protect your lungs when dealing with large amounts of silica dust.

Volatile Organic Compounds

Within the scientific literature, professional spray painters are the most well-known for suffering from the effects of inhaled VOCs – volatile organic compounds. Aside from eye irritation being a common complaint amongst these workers, they are also at an increased risk of COPD and airway sensitization to isocyanates (one of the most notorious VOCs)

The thing about this sensitization to isocyanates is that once it appears, it's here to stay. Even after somebody has been removed from the at-risk occupation, they'll still exhibit signs and symptoms of isocyanate sensitization anytime they once more resume contact. In some cases, this sensitization to isocyanates has resulted in death.

Staying healthy at work is difficult when you don't wear respiratory protection.

Welding Fumes

One of the chief dangers here is metal fume fever. Typically, when somebody comes down with a case of metal fume fever, they've inhaled a large amount of zinc oxide. And when somebody's inhaled a lot of zinc oxide, chances are high that they've recently been working with galvanized steel. While galvanized steel has many benefits (it will not rust), galvanization is a thin layer of zinc oxide that has been added to the steel.

When a welder starts to weld galvanized steel joints, he releases a lot of zinc oxide into the air around him. If he breathes enough of it, within roughly four hours, he will begin to show his first signs and symptoms. A cough, fever, chills, excessive sweating, muscle aches, and general malaise will be the predominant issues. Still, it's not uncommon for severe nausea, vomiting, and a headache to manifest.

Symptoms typically decrease after 24-48 hours, but it can take up to four days to feel like one's self again.

(Image courtesy of Construction du PEPS at Wikimedia Commons.)

If you're involved in demolition, construction, or shipbuilding, there's a high possibility that you're being exposed to asbestos regularly. (And yes, asbestos is still used for some tasks involved with ship work, mainly if the ship came from China.)

(A Japanese shipyard worker.)

The main risk of breathing in asbestos fibers is the development of the lung disease mesothelioma – an aggressive form of cancer that generally kills its victim within two years after diagnosis. You cannot afford to be passive around asbestos.

(Check out this link for more MIRA Safety advice on staying safe around asbestos.)


Any time you cut or mill lumber, you will generate large amounts of sawdust. If it's not oxygen, you don't want to breathe it, and it's a good idea to do what you can to protect your lungs against sawdust.

Typically, adverse health outcomes from sawdust exposure that doesn't manifest until years of chronic exposure. However, you must be aware of organic dust toxic syndrome as an acute health risk. Either way, it's best to ensure that you protect your lungs as every threat presents itself.

(A sawdust dryer in Poland. Image courtesy of Cedodsenobe at Wikimedia Commons. )

Organic Dust

Sawdust isn't the only type of organic dust one must be concerned about. Just about any dust that one breathes from organic matter can easily prove to be a health concern, typically with the toxic organic dust syndrome we referenced above.

Whether working in a feed mill, fertilizer factory, or coffee processing plant, you must ensure that you are protecting your lungs from inhaling large amounts of organic dust.

Airborne Metals

Why is it that researchers found that those living near a steel plant had lung cancer rates up to 40% higher than those who didn't live near the plant? Because of what is pumped out into the air. Now imagine what the air quality would be like for those inside the plant all day long. When it comes to grinding, welding, galvanizing, and heating metal, there are going to be some that are released up into the air.

(Hot dip galvanization. Image courtesy of Wertguouse at Wikimedia Commons. )

And if you're not taking precautionary steps to protect yourself, you'll end up breathing some of that into your lungs.

This is one of the reasons that welders have so many health problems. Their bodies absorb a lot of lead, with one study finding that adolescent welders, in particular, had 3-4x higher amounts of toxic metals in their bloodstream compared to controls.

Chromium and manganese are two of these metals commonly inhaled by welders and are part of the reason that asthma, anemia, pneumonia, lung irritation, stomach disorders, and neurological issues are all common complaints amongst occupational welders.

But lest you begin to think that it's only welders who need to be concerned here, you need to remember that this threat of inhaled metals applies to anybody who regularly cuts, grinds, polishes, or heats heavy metals. Aerosolized heavy metals are one of the dangerous conditions for industrial workers that you need to be mindful of. Sheet metal workers are at an increased pneumonia risk, blade sharpeners who inhale iron can end up with siderosis, and smelting workers have an increased risk of cancer.

So if you find yourself in an occupation where any of these activities are just a part of the job, you must ensure that you protect your lungs when dealing with potentially dangerous tasks.


Staying healthy at work is something you need to pay particular attention to if you work in a shipyard. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), shipyards have nearly double the injury and illness rate compared to the rest of the US workforce.

Shipyard workers are regularly exposed to just about every respiratory hazard, such as cadmium (which also causes kidney disease) and cobalt (which causes pulmonary fibrosis – a hardening of the lungs).

Unhealthy Conditions of Industrial Workers? How Can You Protect Yourself?

If you don't want to end up damaging your health while working with dangerous chemicals or in a potentially hazardous environment, you have to ensure that you take the proper steps to keep yourself safe. Here are a few things you can do to ensure that staying healthy at work can be a reality.

Staying Alert to Your Surroundings is Key to Staying Healthy at Work

If the guy at the workstation right next to you is welding pieces of galvanized steel all day, you're going to want to be aware of that, not wanting to make that discovery at the end of your shift. Refrain from getting so wrapped up in whatever task is at hand that you aren't aware that you're standing next to somebody spilling concrete mix all over the place or something of the like.

Stay alert to what is happening around you, and you'll be able to either remove yourself from potentially dangerous situations or take the necessary PPE steps to keep yourself safe around them. The conditions of industrial workers require a degree of personal savvy.

Wear a Respirator When Warranted

If you're working in a situation that will produce large quantities of dust, gas, or vapors, you need to ensure that you are protecting your lungs. This is where a high-quality respirator is a must. MIRA Safety offers two types of respirators that would benefit those working within an industrial setting: the MIRA Safety Tactical Air-Purifying Respirator Mask (TAPR) and the CM-6M full-face gas mask.

The TAPR system is perfect for when you don't necessarily need eye protection but do need to do something to keep your lungs protected. And if you find yourself involved in a job where you need to keep your eyes and lungs safe from whatever it is that you're working with, the CM-6M full-face gas mask will get the job done while providing you with the maximum field of vision.

A respirator has to have an appropriate filter to get the job done, though; this is where the MIRA Safety DotPro 320 filters come into play. Rated as a P3 filter, these can keep 99.99995% of airborne particulate matter from reaching your lungs, and they're rated to treat several types of airborne vapors. (Here, you can learn more about which vapors our DotPro 320 filters will protect you against at this link.)

Combining a TAPR or CM-6M system with a DotPro 320 filter is an excellent means of ensuring that you are taking active steps to stay healthy at work.

Think Through Your Decisions–Every Time.

Far too many accidents occur around dangerous machinery and chemicals because people are so used to doing something a thousand times a day that they no longer think through the process. Their brain goes on autopilot, and they end up making a stupid mistake that they knew was stupid, but because they were on autopilot and did not think, they get hurt.

Whether mixing, pouring or applying chemicals, make sure that you are actively thinking through your decisions and understand that if it can go wrong, it will. Wear the proper PPE gear you need to keep yourself safe every time.

MIRA Safety NC-11 Protective CBRN Gloves can assist you in your efforts to protect your skin from hazardous substances.

Part of this thinking through decisions involves taking precautions every time as well. The one time that you don't wear your goggles or gloves will be the one time that something splashes back onto you. The one time you don't wear your respirator, there will be a problem with the machinery that necessitates your standing in the dust cloud for much longer than you had ever thought you would have to.

Think through your decisions ahead of time and take the appropriate precautions—every time.

Double Check the Chemicals You’re Working With

If you inadvertently mix the wrong chemicals, you can quickly create a life-threatening gas cloud.

This happened in 1988 at an Auburn, Indiana, metal plating factory. As one of the workers attempted to clean out a five-foot-deep vat of zinc cyanide, he accidentally grabbed the wrong cleaning solution. He grabbed muriatic acid, a commonly used chemical for cleaning porcelain.

(Zinc cyanide. Image courtesy of EFL’s Lab at Wikimedia Commons. )

When muriatic acid comes into contact with zinc cyanide, it releases hydrogen cyanide gas. The worker collapsed in the vat, and when three of his buddies saw what had happened, they all tried to rescue him. All three of the rescuers were killed by the fumes as well. When first responders arrived at the scene sometime later, many ended up being treated for exposure to the hydrogen cyanide as well, with 20 people being injured aside from the four dead.

You must ensure that you have grabbed the correct chemical for the job. When unsure, there is no shame in verifying with somebody else.

Enjoy Your Job

We hope that we haven't painted the picture that any form of manufacturing or heavy industry is a graveyard waiting to happen. It's not. But there are dangerous chemicals and substances involved with many of these jobs that make conditions of industrial workers occasionally difficult, and you have to make sure you have a healthy fear of them if you don't want to end up a statistic. Staying healthy at work involves a healthy fear of danger while ensuring you do what you can to protect yourself against it.

The man who wears a respirator when grinding concrete is no longer viewed as a wimp ten years down the road when all his colleagues are showing signs of pulmonary fibrosis.

So enjoy your job, but don't neglect to take steps to protect your health so that you can enjoy your career results for years. You work and save for your future. Please do what you can to protect it.

Thoughts on the subject? Let us know in the comments below.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is staying healthy at work easy?
What if I’m literally working with dangerous vapors and engulfed in particulates all day long?
Don’t all jobs carry some degree of occupational hazard?