Dust hazards in the aerospace manufacturing sector are closely monitored to avoid exposing employees to potentially dangerous substances.
Various processes produce hazardous dust in this industry such as grinding, welding, sanding, painting and more. The materials that produce dangerous dust include chromium, nickel, fibreglass, titanium and others.
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Dust health effects
Dust exposure from aerospace manufacturing has many negative health effects. The symptoms of exposure can include nose, throat and eye irritation, headaches, nausea, vomiting and dizziness. If it continues unchecked, the more severe health effects can include liver damage, pulmonary congestion, worsening asthma symptoms, kidney damage, allergy symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath, respiratory damage and central nervous system damage.
In addition to the dust inhalation health effects on employees, there is also the added risk of the dusts being extremely combustible, which can have serious consequences in the event of an accident, such as a workplace fire, which puts everyone at risk.
Aerospace manufacturing processes
Different processes produce various types of hazardous dusts in the aerospace sector. Cutting and grinding creates particles of various dusts in large volumes. These can include fibreglass, plastics, metal, glass and epoxy resins, all of which can cause respiratory irritation.
In particular, the health effects of fibreglass dust include skin irritation causing itching, irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, wheezing and coughing. Existing conditions such as asthma and bronchitis can be aggravated. Although symptoms might be temporary, continued exposure to high levels of fibreglass dust can lead to permanent damage.
The blasting processes required during engine work commonly use hazardous aluminium oxide or silica-based materials. Aluminium dust health effects can include the restrictive lung disease, aluminosis, which can lead to pulmonary fibrosis.
Silica dust exposure
The health effects of silica dust can be extremely serious, causing silicosis. Silica dust particles can get trapped in the lung tissue, causing scarring and inflammation. This reduces the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen.
Silicosis causes permanent lung damage and is known to be a debilitating, progressive and sometimes fatal disease. Continued exposure to silica dust initially causes coughing, shortness of breath and fatigue. Later, chest pains and more serious symptoms occur, especially after heavy exposure.
Once affected, silicosis can continue to progress even after the workplace exposure stops. Chronic silicosis typically occurs after ten years’ exposure to respirable crystalline silica, but it can occur more quickly after particularly heavy exposure.
Triple threat of aerospace dust
The chief issues of concern within the aerospace industry are the airborne particulates created by various industrial processes. Dust is a complex problem, due to the various materials from which it is generated.
The diverse operations conducted in aircraft hangars and workshops create their own challenges to protect the health and safety of employees.
Research shows dust causes the greatest damage of all hazardous substances in the aerospace industry, creating a triple threat. It carries toxic airborne dust that poses a danger not only to workers, but also to the local neighbourhood and the environment if left unchecked.
Secondly, it can ruin the finish and quality standards of the procedures used in component production and safety maintenance.
Thirdly, it accelerates the rate of wear and tear on workshop tools, aircraft components and ancillary vehicles.
Workplace dust exposure limits
Like every sector, the aerospace industry is subject to workplace dust exposure limits. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, known as COSHH, regulates dust exposure in the workplace. The industry is monitored by the Health and Safety Executive in the UK.
COSHH regulations stipulate that hazardous dust in the air has an upper limit of 4 mg/m3 for respirable dust and 10 mg/m3 for inhalable dust over an eight-hour working period. If the dust level is higher than the legal limit, putting workers’ safety at risk, immediate action must be taken to reduce the hazard.
Comprehensive dust extraction strategies are commonly used in the aerospace industry to mitigate the risks of airborne dust. AirBench solutions for dust extraction in the aerospace industry include downdraught benches, cross draught systems and booths, mist filters and air cleaning systems. We solve all dust, fume and mist extraction issues by also offering specialist solutions for difficult materials.
What must employers do to comply?
Employers must carry out a risk assessment of dust exposure under the COSHH regulations to comply. They must identify the hazards and who might be exposed, assess the risks and put controls and procedures in place to protect the workforce and other people who may enter the premises.
The law also requires an employer to carry out regular health monitoring of workers who may be exposed to dust linked to a disease or illness. PPE should be provided for protection including a dust mask, face shield, goggles, gloves, coveralls and non-slip safety footwear.
The penalties for breaching dust regulations can be severe, including hefty fines. In the case of very serious breaches, individuals can be imprisoned for failing to comply with COSHH regulations.