Catching Dusts: the risk of dust in the workplace

Manufacturing instruments that reduce occupational risk

Catching Dusts: the risk of dust in the workplace

Catching Dusts: the risk of dust in the workplace

In petrochemical, pharmaceutical, mining, and manufacturing environments, there is also an added risk of dust explosions, caused by substances including welding fumes, gas and oil, coal dust, wood and grains. How can employers in such industries put measures in place to ensure workers are sufficiently protected against all of the risks dusts pose to worker health and safety?

Health matters

There are a wide range of substances in the workplace that have the potential to cause harm to health if ingested, inhaled, or in contact with skin, often leading to irreversible respiratory diseases, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. [3]  Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations (COSHH), the levels of inhalable dust in the workplace should not exceed 10mg/m3 and the level of respirable dust must not exceed 4 mg/m3.[4] Employers are advised to control levels constantly to ensure such maximums are never reached.  

From the thousands of substances that can be found within a working environment, 500 are given specific limits, under Workplace Exposure Limits regulations, commonly referred to as WELs.  For example, cobalt metal has an exposure limit of 0.1 mg/m3 and silica is 0.1 mg/m3, meaning workers can only be exposed to a small amount before the substance potentially becomes hazardous to health. If such substances are identified in the working environment, employers must be familiar with the relevant exposure limit figures.

Good measure

Personal monitoring in the form of personal dust sampling pumps is the preferred method to measure dust exposure levels in the workplace, allowing employers to remain compliant to government standards of safety with a completely accurate record of individual exposure levels.

Personal pumps are efficient, practical and adaptable, offering tailored features depending on individual requirements.  The pumps provide information on temperatures and dust levels, alerting employers about the risk of explosions or harmful levels of dusts in the atmosphere.  To ensure personal sampling pumps accurately measure inhalable dust levels, filters connected to the devices are worn near the breathing zone (mouth and nose) absorbing air and catching particles, mimicking the way a human breathes. When required, the particles collected are sent to a laboratory for further testing.

In some instances, this is replacing traditional methods whereby reports taken from an external occupational hygienist inspecting the workplace demonstrated sufficient evidence for accurate record keeping of dust levels. Personal sampling pumps offer a more enhanced monitoring system able to provide data records all the time.  Data can be collected throughout seasonal and weather changes - in the summer months there may be better ventilation, where windows might be open, as opposed to winter months where lower ventilation can make for a dustier environment.  Based on the findings, further practices to dust control can be modified. Workers may be required to wear additional respiratory protective equipment, or the location may need to be fitted with ventilation systems.

When new processes are introduced including new machinery and ventilation equipment systems the sampling pumps enable tests to ensure exposure limits are still kept to a minimum. Ultimately, this allows workforces to become more engaged, with more insight than ever before on the steps being taken to measure and improve their health in the workplace.

Controlling Explosive Dust

Dust explosions are not a new problem; in fact, records from over 100 years ago cite incidences that resulted in illness and death as well as costly damage to buildings.[5] The most violent incidences result from dust/air mixtures that are fuel rich.[6] To protect workers against risk of explosion, the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (2002) require employers to asses the risks associated with the exposure to dangerous substances. Following this identification precautions are outlined, ensuring health and safety standards are achieved.[7]

Safe Guarding

Although personal sampling pumps will not give a real-time level of the dust, they are available intrinsically safe so can be used in potentially explosive atmospheres. Of course, once the analysis of the filter is complete, they will identify if dust levels are getting to a potentially dangerous level.

Tim Turney
Technical Product Manager

This article was first published in the July 2017 edition of HazardEX.

[3] The Health and Safety Executive Approved Code of Practice and Guidance: Control of Substances Hazardous to health,2002.

[4] The Health and Safety Executive Approved Code of Practice and Guidance: Control of Substances Hazardous to health,2002.