Reducing Risks Onsite with underground construction air quality monitoring

24 March 2020

Maintaining safe air quality for construction workers is of paramount importance, and compliance with government regulations and standards is mandatory for underground construction operations around the world.

“Exposure monitoring provides critical information regarding the extent of worker exposure and the associated risks …. Numerous direct reading devices are commercially available; however, the use of such are typically limited to very specific situations, therefore consideration should be given to the instrument selection and its use.”

–  Australian Tunnelling Society, Air Quality Working Group December 2018

Underground construction, in the form of tunnels and shafts, is essential to most major urban and regional road and rail infrastructure development projects. Unfortunately, it can be extremely dangerous with potential health risks to workers including intense heat and humidity; limited access; fire and explosive hazards; and increased exposure to multiple air contaminants.

Expertise in underground air quality management

Underground construction monitoring has often been restricted to standard instruments and ranges that manufacturers include in their network, monitoring for elements that are not relevant to the specific site, or lacking key capabilities that are required. This means that it may be necessary to install extra networks or monitoring systems on top of this base level to cover the entire spectrum of gas, air, particulate, dust, temperature, velocity, noise, vibration etc. Not anymore.

Flexible, tailor-made solutions

Acoem fully integrated systems allow the customer to select which options they would like to include, which gases are being monitored, the range of measurement, and whether the customer wishes to focus on one thing, such as air quality, or want a more holistic view of the entire operating environment including air velocity, temperature, noise exceedances, vibration and humidity. By configuring the monitoring system to meet the specific application, the process is simplified, and all data is transmitted via a single unit, rather than by multiple loggers.

“Many different options and configurations are available, meaning that you can select the components that meet your specific project’s needs,” said Michael Preston, Strategic Business Development Manager.

“Underground construction project managers want to ensure they are protecting the safety of their workplace. Our fully integrated system of instruments and analysers can assist with this and overall productivity,” he added.

Underground construction health risks

The main hazards associated with tunnelling activities include exposure to toxic gases, dusts and increased exposure limits to airborne concentrations. The most common airborne contaminants in underground construction projects are CO, CO2, methane and reduced O2 levels – due to little natural ventilation; and NO and NO2 – due to plant movement and ancillary works.

“Diesel particulate matter (DPM) released into the air is considered a Group 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organisation (WHO). A recent study on diesel exhaust particles has also drawn attention to the increased risk of cardiovascular and pulmonary disease caused by DPM exposure. This is a particular concern in underground tunnelling projects where ancillary diesel engines are often used in tunnel boring excavation, and materials and supplies are transported to and from the confined work area by diesel powered vehicles.”

– Diesel exhaust particles and endothelial cells dysfunction: An update, Toxicology in VitroVolume 32, April 2016

Precise, real-time data

The Acoem Congrego® data logger acts as the central command centre for underground construction monitoring solutions. Supporting numerous instruments simultaneously, Congrego® fulfills the ‘traceability of records’ requirement of ISO 17025, and was created with environmental professionals in mind.

Congrego ® helps the customer collect and collate data from a wide range of Acoem and non-Acoem equipment manufacturers. Providing real-time, accurate environmental data that assists decision makers, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the workplace.

Acoem has supplied, installed and maintained underground air quality management systems in some of the largest and longest road and rail tunnel projects across Australia.

For more information about how Acoem can customise an underground air quality monitoring system for your next project, please check out the Underground Construction brochure, or contact Michael Preston at or +61 2 8707 7403

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