Professionals in industries such as stone masonry, tool hire, fabrication and composites all have one thing in common; they frequently face contaminants – one of which is dust. Over the years, newer and better technologies have been developed to alleviate these complications, such as dust extraction systems and air filtration units.
However, there needs to be a better understanding of this waste product, its types and just how detrimental it can be to our health.
What is Dust?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “dusts are solid particles, ranging in size from be-low 1 µm (micrometre) up to at least 100 µm, which may be or become airborne, depending on the origin, physical characteristics and ambient conditions.” They are usually projected into the air by natural forces such as the pollens carried by air, sandstorms and volcanic ashes. They can also be generated by manual processes namely grinding, cutting and crushing. Small in size, this often makes them invisible to the naked eye, making them hard to control by human efforts alone.
Types of Dusts:
Various types of dust are found in different working environments including:
- Metallic dusts such as nickel, cadmium, lead and beryllium dusts
- Mineral dusts including coal and cement dust and those which comprise of crystalline silica
- Other chemical dusts including pesticides and bulk chemicals
- Organic and vegetable dusts which include wood, flour, cotton and pollens
- Biohazards such as moulds, spores and viable particles
Route of Exposure
Dusts can enter the body in more than one way. Common routes of exposure include:
- Inhalation. This route is given greater attention, as we are easily exposed to dust – we can breathe it in once it is released into the atmosphere. Inhalation of harmful dusts can lead to adverse health effects, ranging from minor illnesses to life-threatening conditions.
- Skin Exposure. Other dusts, such as cement and wood, may affect the skin directly. This can cause dermatitis, allergic responses and skin cancer.
- Skin Absorption. This may arise when water-soluble materials dissolve with sweat and pass through the skin. This can then travel into the bloodstream, causing systematic intoxication.
- Ingestion. This occurs when poor hygiene allows drinking, eating and smoking in unclean workplaces.
Some diseases only become apparent after long-term exposure, resulting in workers being oblivious to the dangers at first.
These adverse effects can be associated with dust exposure:
- Allergic responses
- Eye and skin irritation
- Respiratory diseases
- Skin diseases
- Systematic poisoning
- Hard metal disease
Aside from posing a severe threat to our wellbeing, dusts can also be explosion and fire hazardous when they are combustible. Industries dealing with metallic dusts are susceptible to explosions when dusts are not controlled properly – materials that oxidise can also cause dust explosions. When in a finely divided form, flammable resources can burn easily and rapidly.
Avoiding Dust Hazards
It is important to protect workers from these dust hazards at all costs. One of the easiest ways to assure their safety is to provide the appropriate work attire. Another solution is to install dust extraction and air cleaning systems.
Dust extraction systems collect and filter dust before pollutants can affect the working environment. Air cleaning systems, on the other hand, are secondary solutions. They can trap additional dusts that have escaped extraction systems. Both of these systems can protect your employees and your products.
Airbench is the number one manufacturer of dust extraction and air cleaning systems in the UK. We offer solutions for industries such as stone masonry, fabrication and rapid prototyping and we are happy to provide on-site demonstrations across the UK. Contact us for more details.