Whether at home, outside or in our workplaces we may be exposed to dust. Low levels of dust exposure in our everyday lives are not generally a problem and not all dust presents a significant hazard to our health. At work however we may be exposed to a higher level of harmful dust which can have serious consequences for our health.
Inhalable dust is visible to the naked eye. This dust may consist of larger or heavier particles that tend to get trapped in the nose, mouth, throat, or upper respiratory tract where they can cause damage. Respirable dust is fine enough to be invisible to the naked eye and can be breathed deeply into the lungs and cause harm.
Dust can also be inhaled entering the respiratory tract and be trapped by mucus developed in the upper respiratory track. This is generally coughed up or spat out but this dust may also be swallowed resulting in gastrointestinal tract irritation. Dust may enter the eyes and cause mechanical irritation or chemical reactions depending on the mature of the dust. Skin contact with dust may cause irritation, ulceration and dermatitis.
Asbestos, silica, and wood dusts are some of the dusts that may cause of significant harm to employee’s health and can cause diseases such as cancer and other life changing illnesses. There are many other dusts such as flour, grain, welding fume etc that can also be harmful and cause life changing illness.
Controlling dust may need a blended approach. The law requires personal protective equipment to be a last resort. So protecting your employees is not as simple as providing dust masks. Providing protection for your employees will often include mechanical controls such as local exhaust ventilation and also personal protective equipment.
The Health and Safety Executive are currently actively looking at employees who carry out woodworking so you may receive a visit soon. It is important that you can demonstrate how you protect your employees from harm from dust.
By Ainslie Johnson CMIOSH