It may be tiny, but its impact can be great. Dust is often brushed off as a mild annoyance or inconvenience and not treated with the seriousness that it requires. It affects many more industries than perhaps the most obvious, including construction, manufacturing and hospitality. For decades dust has been accepted as an unavoidable by-product, but this is - and should - not be the case. It also takes many forms, which can have a negative impact on us, our employees, and our colleague’s health.
Dust hangs in the air and the smallest particles can reach deep into the lungs. As a threat, dust is hard to see and can have irreversible effects within minutes. Therefore, it is critical that we raise awareness of this widespread issue and encourage the implementation of preventative steps across all industries, homes and businesses to protect all who are at risk of exposure. Moreover, in many countries, including the UK, dust busting inspectors are now focusing on dust management within industries and organisations that are particularly susceptible to its impact.
As an example, we are seeing an increasing number of Coffee roasteries popping up in urban locations who import raw coffee beans and put them through a heat process. This creates dusts which can potentially cause occupational asthma.
Design Technology departments in schools also encourage their students to wear personal protective equipment, but there could be less thought to whether the teacher supervising this work each day or the staff sweeping sawdust wears PPE. It’s easy to dismiss these small exposures to common materials as insignificant, but regular exposure builds up and can have tragic consequences.
The main cause of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is cigarette smoking, yet this disease can equally be caused by exposure to dusts. Once COPD develops the damage to the lungs is irreversible. Combined with poor air quality in many urban areas, especially under certain environmental conditions, dust has the potential to affect us all which can lead to premature deaths and life-changing health conditions.
Managing exposure to dust
Simple measures can have a significant impact on minimising problems created through exposure to dust;
a) Look for ways to avoid cutting materials, especially using power tools, by better design;
b) Use materials which are less hazardous;
c) Think about all routes of exposure not just from inhalation, but also absorption through the skin and ingestion. Consider everyone in the environment;
d) Use dust suppressant systems, such as damping down 5. Use local extract ventilation suitable for the task which draws dust away from the user;
e) Vacuum dust rather than sweep to keep the work environment clean;
f) Keep on top of housekeeping;
g) Use the right personal protective equipment for the job and train workers in face fit techniques so they know how to use equipment correctly; and
h) Train workers and give them information, have frank conversations, e.g.
- Consult the many freely available resources published by IOSH and other industry organisations - an example is the https://www.notimetolose.org.uk/ website; and
- Check the controls you introduce are working effectively and monitor the health of workers so you can adjust controls or alter their work before they suffer harm.
Dust exposure should be risk assessed at all businesses and organisations in line with Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations, and controls chosen according to the hierarchy of risk control.
The daily work exposure limits for many dusts, including silica, is remarkably low and can be reached within minutes without controls. It is therefore crucial governments start to take this threat seriously on all levels.