Resources - Toxicology

Biomedical Safety

The law of the land, executive order, and Air Force policy require that each employee be provided employment and that the employment place be safe, healthful, free from recognized hazards, that environmental pollution from weapon systems, operations and other activities be controlled. This cannot be accomplished with passive avoidance of hazards but requires an aggressive effort beginning with the acquisition of all systems and continuing through the establishment of health and safety programs.

The term biomedical, as used in the Air Force and in this manual, refers to physical and chemical agents which impact on the health and well being of humans. Chemical agents, which may have a negative effect on man, may be hazardous because of their toxic, corrosive, flammable, or reactive nature. Physical agents include all forms of sound and vibration, all forms of electromagnetic radiation, and all forms of particle radiation. The recognition, evaluation, and recommendations for control of biomedical hazards are the responsibility of bioenvironmental engineering.

Not all chemicals are hazardous, not all radiation is harmful. As Alice Ottoboni says, “The dose makes the poison.” All but about 20 of the 92 natural elements are essential to life, yet excessive amounts of any one of them will be toxic. Sound and electromagnetic radiation in the proper amounts and frequencies are pleasing to the ear and eye, or in other amounts and frequencies can be discordant and unpleasant or downright harmful. Being smart is knowing when to seek help to evaluate potential hazards from chemical and physical agents.

Each program officer and project officer is required to ensure that potential biomedical problems are considered at the earliest appropriate time in the acquisition cycle. This requires two decisions of the program officers and project officers: (1) is a chemical or physical agent a potential biomedical problem?, and (2) when is the earliest appropriate time in the acquisition cycle to address potential biomedical hazards?

While the statement of work is being written is the appropriate time to consider what biomedical input will be required. The necessary biomedical input, reflecting the hazard potential, will vary widely from program to program. For example, a software study involving no physical hardware may require no biomedical input because there are no physical or chemical agents involved. Whereas each statement of work for a major hardware system to be utilized at an Air Force installation may require the generation of an entire annex which documents both known and potential biomedical hazards, the development of new criteria for hazards for which there are no consensus standards, and new formulation of a plan for mitigating the effects through process change, engineering and procedural controls, and personnel protective equipment, etc.

Some systems are so large and complex that environmental impacts, on both the working environment within the system and on the community around the system, cannot be foreseen. The development of the biomedical data becomes a major tasks and has a major impact on the development of the system. To avoid running up blind alleys, the biomedical data must be made available early in the program to people specifying and defining the system. There are many examples to choose from to illustrate this point.

In the early days of propulsion system development, the emphasis was on maximizing specific impulse. A quick look at the periodic table of the elements reveals that the maximum specific impulse can be obtained by burning hydrogen with fluorine. When the system was built and test fired, the hydrogen fluoride generated in the rocket exhaust was so toxic and corrosive that this propellant combination cannot be used on terrestrial systems. Had timely biomedical data been provided, the system would never have left the drawing board.

Reporting. The reporting and documentation of biomedical hazards is easy and straightforward when the hazards are “routine,” such as the fuels and oxidizers that are in the inventory and that are used in an ordinary way. However, when the state of the art is advanced in materials, bonding agents, familiar chemicals used in novel ways, new applications of radiant energy, etc., it is time to seek assistance from bioenvironmental engineering to determine what biomedical data are required and to interpret the information supplied.

Evaluations. Bioenvironmental engineers trained in industrial hygiene and environmental engineering can draw upon the resources of the Air Force Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory and other information resources, that reach throughout the United States and the world, to assist in the identification, evaluation, and control of biomedical hazards. This vast network of resources has yielded timely and cost-effective solutions to problems such as real-time monitoring in the parts per billion and trillion range, exhaust cloud modeling, laser footprint prediction, and sonic boom measurements. Air Force policy is that no hazard is too great to be controlled. However, time, money, and mission constraints must be balanced, and this is where the professional expertise of the bioenvironmental engineers, when applied early in the acquisition cycle, pays big dividends to system acquisition.

Highest priority should be given to controlling medical hazards with engineering controls. This is often practical only when identification of the biomedical hazard is made early in the system definition.

Source: USAF System Safety Handbook

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Copyright ©2000-2019 Geigle Safety Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Federal copyright prohibits unauthorized reproduction by any means without permission. Disclaimer: This material is for training purposes only to inform the reader of occupational safety and health best practices and general compliance requirement and is not a substitute for provisions of the OSH Act of 1970 or any governmental regulatory agency. CertiSafety is a division of Geigle Safety Group, Inc., and is not connected or affiliated with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).