Dust in the workplace is problematic on many levels.
Firstly, the presence of dust, especially accumulations of sawdust at floor level, is an incredibly ready source of fuel for sparks or concentrations of heat.
Secondly, airborne dust can be ignited by sparks or a heat accumulation and cause explosions. If you don’t believe us that sawdust can cause explosions, you’re not alone, that’s probably why Mythbusters proudly busted the myth that sawdust isn’t explosive back in 2008.
The third and most undoubtedly the most common problem associated with dust in the workplace is the host of dust related illnesses dust can cause, these illnesses are one of the major killers in the UK when it comes to occupational health and pose a serious risk to anyone working in a dusty environment.
Which Workplaces gather dust?
A lot of working environments are almost entirely dust free. In these places, an office for example, dust should not pose a risk. There are however a lot of working environments where dust can cause problems.
- Mines & Quarries
- Construction Sites
- Carpentry & Joinery
- Bakeries & Mills
How does dust hurt you?
We list some of the main illnesses and diseases caused by exposure to dust in the workplace.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
The HSE estimates that between 15 & 20% of COPD cases are work related. COPD is a term which covers obstructive lung conditions such as Bronchitis and Emphysema. Dust in this case restricts the airflow coming out of the lungs.
Asthma is another obstructive lung disease, which has been linked again to irritants and allergens in the workplace. The HSE again holds the workplace responsible for between 15 – 20% of all Asthma cases.
Carpenters and joiners are four times more likely to develop asthma than other UK workers.
Extrinsic allergic Alveolitis (EAA)
EAA is an allergic condition, specifically caused by biological dusts including those from dairy or grain products. EAA causes conditions which have become known as ‘farmers lung’ (Caused by exposure to mouldy hay) and ‘pigeon fanciers lung’ (caused by exposure to animal proteins)
Pneumoconiosis is an occupational lung disease caused by the inhalation of dust, often found in mines. Depending on the type of dust inhaled, this disease has been called many different names, including siderosis, asbestosis and stannosis.
The TUC believes that 12,000 people a year die of cancer caused by dust in the workplace. Hardwood dust is particularly damaging and research has revealed that it is a strong cause of nose cancer.
Dust affected lungs put extra strain on the heart, which can often lead to right to right sided heart failure. Some workplace exposures, like metal dust, can cause fata conditions like cardiomyopathy whilst very fine dust particles cause inflammation of the heart and higher risk of heart attacks.
What can you do?
Under the law, employers are responsible for managing health and safety in the workplace, first and foremost it is an employer’s duty to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of their employees and those who may be affected by their business.
A large part of this is making sure that workers and others are protected from anything that may cause harm, minimising any risks to injury or health that can be found in the workplace. To help you understand this, the HSE has put a short guide together on Health & Safety Regulation.
How Alcumus can help
Many organisations do not have the resource to keep abreast of health and safety legislation. Here at Alcumus we provide occupational hygiene advice and support to businesses of all sizes and types. We also carry out monitoring surveys to look at exposures within the workplace whether this be to dusts (and any other contaminants), noise or vibration. With a qualified consultants and technical competence behind us, Alcumus can help fulfil the duty of care you have to your employees.