Many industries and processes generate dusts that are classed as a substance hazardous to health. It is now widely known that exposure to these dusts could result in a wide variety of health issues and that they must, therefore, be either prevented or adequately controlled in line with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 (as amended).
Reducing exposure to dust
As an employer, there are several options available to protect workers from exposure to dust and the equipment available to perform this task is now more sophisticated and efficient than ever. One highly effective solution is to implement a Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) system to control the airborne contaminant and remove it from the workplace. This will help to protect workers in the immediate vicinity, as well as all other workers within the wider working environment, from exposure.
As there are a range of processes within manufacturing that may produce potentially hazardous dusts a ‘one size fits all’ approach is rarely suitable. Each different process will require a specific approach. Because different dusts can pose different levels of health risk, we need to consider several elements when designing a dust extraction system to ensure appropriate control of the contaminant. The dust extraction system should be suitable to effectively control a dust hazard from an individual process.
It is also important to ensure that any controls that you have in place to protect your workers from dust continue to be effective over time. You are also required to ensure that all staff are trained to understand how to use LEV control measures properly and effectively as well as understanding the associated health risks.
Effects on health from dust
When it comes to the effects on health, the key things to consider are whether the dust is ‘inhalable’ or ‘respirable’.
Inhalable dust usually refers to dust contaminants which are made up of larger or heavier dust particles which can become trapped in the nose, mouth, throat or upper respiratory tract. Once inhaled these can cause damage. This type of contaminant may also be referred to as ‘total inhalable dust’.
Respirable dust is made up of smaller particles which enter the lungs when inhaled. These can build up over time potentially resulting in lung damage in the long term.
Effects on health from inhaling dusts
Over time, dust can build up in the lungs which may lead to inflammation and damage to the lungs, fibrosis and breathing impairment. These symptoms may take years to develop and unfortunately, by the time they are recognised irreparable damage may have occurred. There are certain specific dusts that are well known to cause irreversible respiratory problems and lung diseases. One of these is crystalline silica which is known to cause silicosis and lung cancer. Other respiratory problems such as occupational asthma, rhinitis and extrinsic allergic alveolitis are associated with dusts including wood, grain or flour.
Skin irritation and ulceration, leading to dermatitis may be caused by processes involving rubber, wood, fibreglass and epoxy resins. Dusts produced when carrying out tasks involving the cutting, drilling and grinding of materials also poses a risk of irritation or damage to the eyes.
Dust that has been inhaled may also be ingested. This can result in irritation of the gastrointestinal tract, there is also a risk of dust being transferred into the blood stream resulting in problems in other organs.
While it is clear that each dust extraction unit needs to effectively control dust contaminant produced from a process at source, it may also be necessary to consider the wider environment. This is dependant on the individual environment but if drafts or general air movement is present, we may also need to consider complimentary dust extraction systems to support LEV. These systems are capable of filtering larger volumes of contaminated air and providing a continuous supply of cleaned air to the workforce.
We are here to advise and support you to meet the dust extraction needs of your environment. Speak to us to find out more about the requirements and solutions that are available to protect your workers from the effects of dust. We would be delighted to review your current dust extraction systems and help you put suitable preventative measures in place.