Dust is one of the many common air pollutants that is usually generated by various activities and sources. Natural erosion of soil, rock, and sand are the most common dust source. Other causes of dust in the environment include microscopic organisms, dander, pollen and microscopic organisms.
Fine or smaller dust particles are usually invisible and cause more harm than the large dust particles as they easily penetrate deeper into the lungs. Ultrafine particles are usually absorbed into the bloodstream directly.
Additionally, there is man-made dust that is very common in urban areas. This is as a result of human activities that include personal hobbies like electricity generation at power stations, gardening, and other large-scale industrial activities.
The size of dust particles varies in size based on whether they are visible or invisible. Smaller particles tend to stay longer in the air making it easy for them to travel further. On the other hand, large dust particles do not stay long in the air and fall out close to where they were formed.
Large dust particles can easily be seen in the form of the dust layers that usually settle on things like motor vehicles and furniture. When it comes to the human body, they are mostly trapped in the mouth and nose whenever one inhales. They can also be exhaled and are usually swallowed harmlessly. Fine or smaller dust particles are usually invisible and cause more harm than the large dust particles as they easily penetrate deeper into the lungs. Ultrafine particles are usually absorbed into the bloodstream directly.
How Does Dust Affect the Health of a Person?
Dust particles affect one’s health in various ways. The size and type of dust help in determining how toxic it will be. However, dust particles that cause harm to a person’s health are usually determined by the amount of dust that is present in the air as well as how long one has been exposed to it.
Below are some of the ways that dust can actually affect your health.
Inhaling Dust into the Lungs
Some breathing problems are usually as a result of dust inhalation with the health effects taking several years before they fully develop. Dust particles that can be inhaled are mostly visible to the naked eye. This type of dust usually consists of heavier or larger particles that end up getting trapped in the throat, mouth, nose and any other upper respiratory tract causing damage.
Dust that one can breathe in is fine enough and invisible to a human’s naked eye. This means one can easily breathe in the dust into the lungs which end up causing so much harm.
Swallowing of Dust
The respiratory tract has a mucus lining. Whenever dust particles are inhaled, it is very easy for the dust to get trapped in the mucus. Two things happen to the mucus; it is either swallowed or spat out. These inhaled dust end up in the digestive tract where they cause known effects like gastrointestinal tract infection. Moreover, they can get into one’s bloodstream and cause certain effects in other tissues or organs.
Eye Contact with Dust
Whenever materials such as trees are cut or when drilling or grinding occurs, and the dust from these activities come into contact with the eye, they can cause eye irritation or damage. The dust particles can cause more damage especially if they have a chemical in them.
Dust Skin Contact
While the skin is the largest organ of the human body, that does not exempt it from irritation from dust particles. Certain types of dust can not only cause skin irritation but can lead to ulceration of the skin as well. Dust such as epoxy resins, wood dust, fibreglass, and rubber processing chemicals can harm the skin leading to skin dermatitis.
Most Hazardous Types of Dust
Dust is never the same. Some types of dust are usually more harmful than others. There are certain health problems that research has shown are linked to excessive exposure to certain types of dust. This may include asthma or lung cancer. And because these health problems take time to develop, they end up causing life-altering as well as premature life-ending illnesses. Below are some dust types that are hazardous and are found in various industries.
It is estimated that asbestos kills close to 5,000 workers every year with the number being higher than those people killed in road accidents. Roughly, about 20 tradesmen die every week due to past exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is largely present in houses that were built before the year 2000.
Whenever any materials that contain asbestos are damaged or disturbed, the result is that fibres are released into the air which when inhaled, cause severe diseases.
The sad part is that the effects of these diseases are not usually felt immediately and by the time they are diagnosed, it is too late to do anything. Asbestos can cause lung cancer, asbestosis, mesothelioma and pleural thickening.
When working in a flour zone, it is important for workers to ensure that they carefully avoid raising the clouds of dust. Enzymes that have additives like amylase and flour dust rank second when it comes to common causes of occupational asthma.
Besides asthma, they also cause dermatitis. Those working in flour mills, bakeries and kitchens stand a high chance of being affected.
Grain dust is dust that results from the harvesting, handling, drying, processing or storage of wheat, maize, barley, oats or rye and has additives or contaminants with the dust such as fungal spores, pesticide residues, bacteria, insects and insect debris and endotoxin.
Other types of grains that may cause health risks due to exposure to dust include sorghum, rice, peas, pulses and various oilseeds. Grain dust causes occupational respiratory diseases such as asthma and over time may develop breathing complications, become disabled which leaves them unable to work.
Wood dust is another leading cause of asthma, especially to carpenters. Hardwood dust can even cause cancer of the nose as dust that has settled is likely to cause damage to the lungs.
Companies that produce any type of dust need first to ensure that their employees are safe and that the working conditions are favourable for them. Additionally, workers need to be educated on the risks involved with dust so that they can take proper care of themselves.
How can Employers Protect Their Employees?
There are general expectations that employers are expected to have that are clearly stipulated in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This Act is meant to ensure that workers are not exposed to unwarranted risks to their safety and health that is as a result of the employer’s line of work.
Dust in any workplace has clear principles and guidelines for dust protection and dust extraction.
Moreover, the 2002 Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) was designed to protect the workers from getting exposed to hazardous materials. COSHH makes it possible for employers to control risks by giving them a framework that is based on a risk assessment.
Whatever steps an employer takes to control dust exposure needs to be proportionate to the potential risk to health. It is, however, important to note that lead and asbestos have their own separate regulations and are therefore not covered by COSHH.
The prevention of the occupational hazards tends to be efficient and less costly if they are considered during the planning phase of any workplace and work process rather than later when it is being used as a control measure of an already existing hazardous situation.
Any new processes being implemented especially in factories need to be planned first to ensure that hazardous substances get used only when it is necessary.
If at all they are necessary, then the company needs to minimize emission both in and out of the workplace as well as minimize waste generation by considering the cycle of the process and the products being used. Here at Exeon, our experienced professionals can help you plan the necessary provisions you need to put in place to ensure a risk free, dust free enviroment in commercial settings.
Every workplace needs to have proper planning to ensure that hazardous exposure is kept to the bare minimum or is completely avoided. Additionally, the regulatory bodies can create incentive rewards for workplaces that ensure that the risk of hazardous exposure is minimized completely.
Moreover, these same considerations need to cut across new or modified procedures and processes that are being introduced in the workplace.
COSHH details clear guidelines on how dust exposure can be minimized per sectors such as agriculture, textiles, construction, rubber, motor vehicle repairs as well as quarry and stoneworkers.
The COSHH guideline is meant to act as a guide for employers by providing advice on what they should do in order to minimize the exposure of hazardous substances such as dust at the workplace. Various dust-related tasks are listed based on the industry.
Main Dust Control Principles at the Workplace
The COSHH guideline outlines various principles that should be used to when it comes to the control of dust at any workplace. These are summarized below as:
- The designed and operating activities and processes should minimize the emission, release, and spread of hazardous substances that have contributed to the depreciation of a person’s health
- Companies need to take into account all the relevant routes that can lead to exposure from ingestion to inhalation to skin absorption when coming up with control measures
- Dust exposures need to be controlled by measures that are commensurate with the health risk
- When choosing control options that can be used to minimize the escape and spread of dust particles that can be hazardous to one’s health, it is important to choose the most reliable and effective options
- In the event a company is unable to use one method to control the exposure of their workers, opting for a combination of other control measures that include personal protective gear can go a long way
- Employers need to review and check regularly that all elements that contribute to the control measures at their workplaces are monitored for continuous effectiveness
- All employees need to be trained on the risks and hazards from the substances that they work around and the need to use control measures that have been developed to minimize the said risks
- Organizations need to ensure that the control measures introduced in the workplace do not heighten the overall risk to safety and health
What Amounts of Dust can be Hazardous?
Most people are usually interested in knowing what amounts of dust can lead to health hazards. The most common answer is that it depends on the type of dust. There is certain dust that has detailed Workplace Exposure Limits which gives employers a guide to help them control exposure.
For instance, silica dust – commonly found in bricks, rocks, concrete, sand, clay, etc. – is very hazardous and has a Workplace Exposure Limit of 0.1mg/m. What that means is during an eight-hour shift, no worker should ingest more than the 0.1mg/m.
Although other dust may not have a Workplace Exposure Limit, the dust may still have a detrimental impact on one’s health. COSHH considers dust as any substance that is hazardous to human health and if the concentration available in the air is equal or greater than 10mg/m3 (for inhalable dust) or 4mg/m3 (for respirable dust) causing occupational diseases.
While the concentrations mentioned above are not considered safe working limits or workplace exposure limits, they help cause trigger that helps to inform whether dust should be subject to the regulations laid out by COSHH.
However, there have been a number of growing consensus in the hygiene/occupational health community that dust exposure at levels that are below the concentrations mentioned above pause a big risk to the employees’ health and other people who are necessarily not employees. That said, it is vital to ensure that all dust related exposures are kept as very low.
What Training do I Give Employees Working in Workplaces that have Dust?
As an employer or a dust trainer, the most crucial thing you can do is give the employee enough information, instructions and training on how to work in workplaces that have dust.
This includes maintenance and cleaning staff. Every employee needs to have a better understanding of the risk assessment outcome and what it means for them as workers. Keeping employees informed and updated on upcoming future changes in the substances or products being used can go a long way in helping them know how best to deal with dust exposure and keep themselves safe.