In Brief

  • Workers in the power generation industry are exposed to many chemical, biological and physical health hazards.

  • This article identifies examples of these hazards and discusses best practices for characterizing them.

  • It also reviews the importance of implementing an effective continuous improvement cycle for controlling these health hazards.

Fossil fuel power generation operations harbor many various occupational health hazards. These chemical, biological and physical hazards range from the routine to the rare. This article discusses the importance of anticipating and characterizing all occupational health hazards, and illustrates a sampling of these hazards. In reviewing these examples, remember two key points:

  1. hazards, exposures and controls will vary significantly from one site to another; and

  2. exposures may be adequately managed through appropriate controls.

Anticipating Workplace Health Hazards in the Power Industry

The risk faced by power industry employees is a function of the hazards present and the exposure level to those hazards. An organized, systematic method of exposure and risk assessment is key to controlling these risks through a successful, effective occupational health and industrial hygiene program. The use of this systematic method, known as qualitative exposure assessment (QEA), to characterize workplace exposures to chemical, physical and biological agents is the solid foundation of this process (Figure 1, p. 50).

Initial qualitative exposure assessments typically involve a site visit by an industrial hygienist who will interview personnel and examine work areas for hazards, controls, work activities and chemicals. This initial assessment represents a snapshot in time; it is performed within a limited time frame and depends heavily on information provided by employees, limited observations, and the assessor's skills and experience. Thus, this initial assessment tends to be somewhat limited in its comprehensiveness.

Complicating matters, after completion of the initial assessment, operations, materials, equipment and conditions are ever-evolving and highly subject to change. To ensure a sustainable hazard control program, a continuous improvement cycle must be woven into the QEA process.

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