Dust consists of tiny solid particles that are suspended or scattered in the air. Various kinds of dust have different particle sizes, chemistry and reactivity. Each has a different impact on our health and the wider environment.
In enclosed spaces, certain types of workplace dust can be extremely hazardous to employees. This article will focus on five dangerous examples of workplace dust that are generated from various processes. We’ll take a look at how to reduce the risks to human health.
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Sawdust is created during every stage of wood processing including sawing, sanding and other operations. When the dust from the wood becomes airborne, workers can be exposed to risks. This can occur during processing, or when they are cleaning and maintaining the equipment.
The health effects commonly experienced include irritation to the eyes, nose and throat; shortness of breath; a dry throat; runny eyes; rhinitis; dermatitis and more serious respiratory system effects. Continued exposure can result in reduced lung capacity, allergic reactions and occupational asthma.
2. Silica dust
Crystalline silica dust is created in the mining, tunnelling and quarrying industry, due to activities such as blasting, sieving, drilling, crushing and transporting silica-containing rock materials. The most common form of hazardous silica dust is quartz, found naturally in many rocks and in soil.
As the main component of sand, people working in abrasive manufacturing sectors, such as stone cutters, glass workers and sandblasters, can also be exposed. Exposure to silica dust causes a lung disease, known as silicosis, that can lead to breathing difficulties. Even short-term exposure to large amounts of silica dust can cause acute silicosis. It also increases the risks of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, tuberculosis, kidney disease and autoimmune problems.
3. Coal dust
Coal mining generates coal dust, either underground or on the surface. Dust is in the atmosphere wherever coal is mined, stockpiled and loaded into a train or truck for transportation. As well as the miners, employees who add coal to the stockpile and remove it for loading are also susceptible to health hazards.
Coal comes in different types including bituminous, sub-bituminous, anthracite and lignite. Exposure to coal dust can lead to a serious disease known as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, or “black lung” disease, which affects breathing.
Safety standards limit exposure to coal dust, but some also contain silica. Modern machinery pulverises coal and the surrounding rock, exposing workers to both coal and silica dust.
4. Asbestos dust
Asbestos dust is particularly hazardous to health. Generated from the naturally occurring mineral, asbestos, which is composed of flexible, soft, heat-resistant fibres: the three main types of asbestos are brown asbestos, known as amosite; blue asbestos known as crocidolite; and white asbestos, known as chrysotile.
Crocidolite fibres are widely used to insulate railway carriages and in the shipbuilding industry. The fibres fluff up when heated and can form sheets that are used for insulation, as they will block fire
. Exposure to asbestos has potentially fatal results, as the fibres, when inhaled, settle in the lungs and can cause cancer and asbestosis. It is not safe to inhale any amount of asbestos in the workplace.
5. Metalliferous dust
The mining of tin, iron ore, copper, gold, nickel, silver and zinc causes metalliferous dust, both underground and on the surface. It is generated during extraction, drilling, hauling, crushing, stockpiling and processing of the minerals.
Metalliferous ores such as silver, uranium and nickel contain toxic dust that adversely impacts the respiratory system. Compounds can also be absorbed into the bloodstream via the alveolar walls.
Poisonous to body tissue and several organs, it can cause serious inflammation of the lungs.
The toxic elements can be released mainly through mining activities – copper and zinc also have a serious impact.
Protecting workers from dangerous dust
The use of dust extraction products across many industries is commonplace. To protect employees from dangerous workplace dust, downdraught benches act as collection systems for every workspace, without the need for operator intervention.
Products such as VertEx cross-draught systems and booths offer a fully extracted workplace, where employees can operate without contamination. In addition, air cleaning systems will capture any remaining particles of fugitive dust, providing complete all-around protection.
The lungs are continually susceptible to the hazards caused by exposure to different types of dust. Most lung conditions caused by inhaling dangerous dust in the workplace are incurable, so the only way to protect your workforce is by preventing the dust from floating in the atmosphere. This really is a case of “prevention is better than cure”.