Air sampling is a process that is often mentioned in the industrial work place or indoor environments where chemical agents are used or produced, but what exactly does the procedure involve, and why is it so important for the safety of workers?
To put it simply, air sampling is the process of detecting and analysing the quantities and varieties of contaminants in a particular environment. It is carried out by using sampling devices that measure and evaluate a sample, or various samples, of the atmospheric air. Some of the most dangerous atmospheric hazards are man-made chemical compounds, such as gases and vapours, or ‘particulates’ which are particles of solid or liquid dispersed in air. Particular rates are some of the most important contaminants to measure during air sampling and can appear as smoke, mist and dust.
The most important reason for conducting samples of air in potentially hazardous environments is of course to ensure the immediate and long-term health and safety of employees. High levels of some atmospheric contaminants, such as toxic gases, cause direct and sometimes fatal consequences for employees, while others that exist at lower levels contribute to the more gradual development of illness and disease as toxicity successively accumulates in the bodies of workers. It is therefore essential that air sampling is carried out even when no immediate or obvious threat presents to ensure that the workplace complies with regulatory occupational health and safety standards.
The procedure is also necessary to monitor the amount of potentially hazardous compounds that are released into the environment and could have detrimental effects on surrounding waterways, vegetation and wildlife.
Some of the devices used for air sampling range from precision-engineered sample pumps to sample tubes for the collection of gases and vapours. When measuring particular rates, air sampling is conducted using filters and portable or hand held devices that offer real-time data transmission of the toxicity level of dust and aerosol samples. Atmospheric sampling procedures can also involve surface and dermal sampling with swabs used for the detection of volatile compounds on work place surfaces and contaminants on the skin of workers.
As well as protecting workers and the environment, the practice of taking samples of air can be helpful in determining what kind of protective clothing should be selected for worker safety. It can also assist in the education for workers on exposure levels and the determination of sources of leaks, among many other uses.