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Dust Exposure – a risk in your workplace?

Dust (or aerosol) exposure is a concern in many workplace environments; however, the full scope of its impact may not be fully realised for many years.  Dust related illnesses develop over a long period of time and can contribute to debilitating health problems.  Are you taking the steps to manage dust exposure in your workplace?

Dust is defined by the International Standards Organisation as “small solid particles usually below 75µm in diameter, which settle under their own weight but may remain suspended for some time”.

To assess the risk that dust presents in your workplace, you must first identify the processes and materials likely to contribute to dust exposure.  It is important to consider that materials which pose negligible risk when in larger pieces could be hazardous in dust form.

Dust is usually produced by industrial processes; however, some occur naturally.

Are any of the dusts below produced in your workplace?

  • Mineral Dusts = Coal, limestone, cement and crystalline silica
  • Metallic Dusts = such as lead, cadmium, nickel and beryllium
  • Chemical Dusts = Most bulk chemicals/pesticides
  • Organic/Vegetable = Wood, flour, cotton, tea dusts and pollen
  • Biohazards = moulds or spores or animal waste
  • Fibrous Dusts = Asbestos, rockwool, glass wool and carbon/silicone carbide fibres

The next step is to evaluate the impact that the dust produced or encountered in your workplace has on your employees.  This can vary depending on the amount and type of dust they are exposed to.  There are four main routes that dust can take to enter the body, these are: inhalation, ingestion, skin contact and eye contact.

ISO 7708 defines the areas of the body where dust is deposited as follows:

  • Inhalable Fraction = Breathing causes dust entry via the nose and mouth causing deposition in the whole respiratory system
  • Thoracic Fraction = Where dust has penetrated past the larynx
  • Respirable Fraction = Dust reaches the lower gas exchange regions of the lungs – this is potentially the most harmful component.

There are multiple illnesses that may occur following exposure to workplace aerosols, shorter exposure periods may lead to skin irritation, dermatitis, and eye damage.  Longer exposure could result in permanent breathing damage or in severe cases lung cancer.

Monitoring of workplace exposure is a critical step in ensuring the long-term health and well-being of your employees.

ProAktive Environmental has a wealth of experience in the monitoring and assessment of workplace exposure and can assist in helping you to provide a safe and healthy workplace.

By Harry RichardsTrainee Environmental Specialist



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