Dust in the Workplace
Posted 17th June 2019
Every year, thousands of workers are made ill from exposure to dust in the workplace that could result in an increase of lung diseases including Occupational Asthma, COPD and even Cancer.
Dust is not always an obvious health hazard in the workplace as the particles which cause the most damage are often invisible to the naked eye, and the health effects of exposure can take many years to develop.
Dust can be a problem in almost every industry. The hazards of dusts can be life threatening and come in many different forms including stone, cements and masonry dust, wood dusts, grain and flour dusts, cotton and wool process dust, Asbestos particles and general nuisance dust.
Exposure to all such dusts needs to be prevented or, at least adequately controlled if the dust is one of the main aspects of an employee’s job or working environment.
Do you have a problem with Dust in your business?
If you think dust could be a problem, ask yourself the following questions:
Are the materials you use naturally dusty?
Does the work you do create dust mechanically or other means?
Is dust liable to be disturbed on a regular basis?
Here are some examples of activities that can create dust – do you do any of the following?
- Filling bags or emptying them into skips or other containers
- Weighing loose powders
- Cutting of materials
- Sieving and screening operations
- Conveying materials by mechanical means or by hand
- Stockpiling large volumes of processed materials
- Crushing and grading
- Milling, grinding, sanding down or other similar operations
- Cleaning and maintenance work
- Clearing up spillages
The workplace exposure limit (WEL) for general respirable and inhalable dust is 4mg/m3 and 10mg/m3 respectively based on an eight-hour working shift. Other more specific types of dust have lower exposure limits as they are considered to be more harmful.
When considering exposure limits for a particular type of dust it is also important to consider whether or not it has been classed as a respiratory sensitiser or carcinogen. For these types of dust, it is a requirement to reduce levels as low as reasonably practicable regardless of the measured exposure levels.
Inhaling aerosol particles
Materials hazardous to health often occur in the workplace in the form of aerosols. The term ‘aerosol’ is used to describe any suspension of particles in air, whether they constitute dust, fibres, fume, smoke or liquid droplets which consist of a wide range of particle diameters.
The behaviour, deposition and fate of any particle after entry into the human respiratory system are determined by the chemical nature and the size of the particle in question.
For occupational hygiene purposes it is important to consider the concentration and the size fractions present. It is possible to define aerosol size fractions that relate to the region of the respiratory tract where they deposit.
These are the inhalable, thoracic and respirable size fractions:
(a) Inhalable fraction – this approximates to the fraction of airborne material that enters the nose and mouth during breathing and is therefore available for deposition anywhere in the respiratory tract.
(b) Thoracic fraction – this is the fraction of inhaled airborne material penetrating beyond the larynx.
(c) Respirable fraction – this is the inhaled airborne material that penetrates to the lower gas exchange region of the lung.
How can Euro Environmental help?
Our consultants are here to help you and can develop and implement monitoring strategies to identify if maximum exposure limits are being exceeded with respect to general dust or those dusts assigned with specific WEL's in the workplace.
Our team will advise on appropriate measures to be taken to reduce the risk of exposure and ensure you comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations.