Asphalt, a petroleum product used mainly in road construction, paving, roofing and siding, exposes over 500,000 workers each year to its hazardous fumes while in its molten state. Those exposed are at risk of suffering a headache, cough, throat and eye irritation, rashes and potentially lung cancer. OSHA has not yet established formal standards for asphalt fumes, although it proposed a 5-milligram permissible exposure limit back in 1992. Its quantitative risk assessment estimated a severe risk of lung cancer among exposed employees, even at levels as low as 0.2 milligrams. It is currently working on developing a plan to diminish the amount of severity of exposures, but it cannot commence regulations yet.
Until they publish official rules, here are some of the major safety concerns in asphalt work and how to handle them:
- Do not bring possible ignition sources (particularly cigarettes) near the material.
- Inspect all machinery daily to ensure that it is all in good condition as to not allow a random spark.
- Do not overheat asphalt or expose it to a great amount of oxygen.
- Use the appropriate solvent.
- Wear clothing over areas that are most susceptible to burns.
- If burned, immediately apply an ice pack or cold water to the affected area. If it is severe, seek professional medical attention.
Fumes and Chemicals
- Always work with asphalt in an open environment.
- Wear procedure masks when working with asphalt. Use respirators if working with the material for long hours.
Reach out to Safety Advantage for help establishing a site specific safety plan to go beyond the delayed OSHA safety guidelines that's right for your workplace.