Man breathing dust

Industry Dust & Fumes: How Dangerous are they?

The dangers of dust and fumes in industry have been well documented, but did you know that invisible threats still pose a serious risk to health and safety?

While you can easily see some hazards in the workplace, others can be hard to identify, and accidents can be difficult to predict as a result.Man breathing dust© /

When potential fire and explosion risks are hard to pinpoint, identifying the health implications of ordinary dust and fumes becomes even more challenging.

Laws such as the Workplace Health Safety and Welfare Regulations 1992 make it mandatory for employers to provide a safe environment for employees and visitors to the premises. The latest statistics from the Health and Safety Executive from January 2024 revealed 13,000 deaths annually in the UK were attributed to past exposure to harmful substances, such as dust and chemicals, at work.

An additional 672,000 employees were found to have a new case of work-related health issues in 2023, when 31.5 million working days were lost as a result.

Installing the best dust and fume extraction system you can afford to ensure good quality air is imperative, not only to comply with the law, but also to protect employee health.


Understanding the sources

To minimise the risks of dust and fumes at work, first identify their primary source within every industrial setting.

We can’t usually see the most dangerous types of dust, as all particles measuring between 0.01 and 100 microns are classed as inhalable. Any particle that’s smaller than 10 microns is also known as “respirable”, which means it can penetrate deeply into the lungs and enter the circulation, causing a number of industrial diseases. As one-micron measures 0.001mm, these particles are far too small to see with the naked eye.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 identifies potentially dangerous workplace fumes and dust. Employers can organise a professional dust risk assessment to determine the sources of the dusts, including whether any are particularly hazardous and require special attention. If they’re classified as a carcinogen or respiratory sensitiser, the level must always be kept as low as reasonably possible.


Health impacts

From respiratory issues such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to severe conditions like lung cancer and neurological disorders, industry dust and fumes can cause a myriad of health problems. The most common are respiratory issues, with the construction industry being among the most hazardous.

An estimated 4,000 construction employees have a work-related lung or breathing problem, according to data released in November 2023 by the HSE. Hazardous airborne dusts and fumes are both commonly found on building sites due to demolition work, welding, exhaust fumes from plant machinery, breaking concrete, ground works and more.

Out of 8,000 cancer deaths reportedly connected to occupational health issues, 3,700 were attributed to working in the past on a construction site, equating to around 46% of the total fatalities.

Other serious respiratory issues include COPD and occupational asthma. Around 12,000 lung disease deaths annually in the UK have been linked to past jobs across all industrial sectors.


Workplace safety regulations

Safety guidelines are set and controlled by the HSE in the UK and by its US counterpart, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, with the onus being placed on employers to keep dust and fume levels within permissible exposure limits.

The COSHH dust exposure limits state that dust in the air can’t be equal to or greater than 10mg/m3 of inhalable dust, or 4mg/m3 of respirable dust, over an eight-hour working day. Safety is at risk if the levels are higher and immediate action must be taken to rectify the problem.

Different kinds of dust may also have specific workplace exposure limits, depending on the potential danger their inhalation could cause. The legally safe exposure limits of more than 500 different substances are detailed on the HSE’s EH40 document, known as the WEL (Workplace Exposure Limits) list, which is legally binding.


Mitigation strategies

Dust and fume control is of the highest importance in every industry, with various mitigation strategies and technologies reducing the risks to employees. The most commonly used is a dust and fume extractor designed to help solve workplace dust, fume and mist issues in all sectors. This system is ideal for multiple industries including manufacturing, soldering, welding, grinding and many more.

AirBench Ltd is the UK’s leading manufacturer of downdraught benches and cross draught extraction systems.


Case Studies and success stories

With more than 10,000 extraction systems in service in the UK and overseas, we’re helping to solve workplace dust and fume problems.

Proptech Aero Ltd, a leading independent propellor manufacturer for aircraft, has installed five of our FN model downdraught benches in its workshop at Lee-on-the-Solent, where grinding and sanding are carried out.

AirBench machine in use

Pro Alloy Motorsport is tackling aluminium dust using AirBench FN126784 units at their Haverhill site.

Read more AirBench case studies relating to jobs completed in the UK and abroad to find out how we can help.


Future technologies

Technology in the dust and fumes extraction sector is continually evolving, with many improvements being developed. These will include fan-blade redesign and enhanced compressors to make less noise and produce more power with cheaper running costs. New types of nanofibres are also being developed to collect larger amounts of dust before they need replacing or changing.

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Why choose AirBench?

AirBench Ltd are the UK’s leading manufacturer of downdraught benches and cross draught extraction systems. We have more than 10,000 extraction systems in service in the UK and overseas. Along with our range of coolant mist filters and air cleaning systems, we are actively helping businesses across many industries solve their workplace dust and fume issues.


If you'd like to try an AirBench product for FREE simply book a demo and we'll bring one to you.