Contact with dust can cause a number of health problems – breathing in dust can cause respiratory issues, swallowing it can irritate the gastrointestinal tract, contact with the eyes can cause damage and irritation, and contact with skin can cause ulcers, irritation, and dermatitis.
Respiratory illnesses caused by dust exposure at work, such as occupational lung disease, are particularly problematic, responsible for 12,000 deaths in the last year alone. Find out how you can prevent exposure and protect your workers with our top ten tips.
1. Identify If You Have Dust Problem
First and foremost, you need to figure out if your workplace has a problem with dust. This can be done by checking surfaces, as visible dust can indicate the presence of airborne dust particles, or by using equipment such as a dust lamp for finer dust.
You should also consider if any materials you work with are naturally dusty, or if any of your work creates dust.
2. Carry Out a COSHH Assessment
This is the most important step – as per the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) 2002 Regulations, employers must assess the risk to their employees, and prevent or adequately control the exposure of employees to substances hazardous to health.
The risks to help must be sufficiently assessed, and the steps taken to meet the COSHH requirements must be both identified and implemented before work begins.
3. Prevent Exposure
Preventing exposure entirely, if possible, is the ideal solution. Depending on how the dust is produced, different techniques may help to eliminate it from your workspace. A few examples include:
- Changing your cutting techniques e.g. wet-cutting instead of regular sawing
- Swapping out materials for less toxic alternatives
- Mix using dust-suppressed materials and emulsions or pastes rather than mixing dry materials
4. Choose The Correct Control Measures
If you cannot completely prevent exposure, then appropriate control measures should be implemented. This could include, in priority order:
- Eliminating the product
- Using a safer form
- Changing the process
- Enclosing the process
- Extracting emissions
- Minimising the number of workers
- Reducing the length of time of exposure
Personal protective equipment (PPE) can be used, however only as a last resort and only in addition to other measures – not instead of.
5. Clean Your Workplace Properly and Safely
When jobs that generate dust have been undertaken, the building should be cleaned to prevent dust accumulating. However, be careful that the method of cleaning does not cause airborne dust, as this can take a long time to settle – do not brush or dry sweep.
6. Ensure You Have Proper Washing Facilities
Make sure that you have adequate washing facilities proportionate to the amount and type of dust – for most jobs, simply a sink with warm water, liquid soap and disposable towels will suffice, however more advanced facilities may be needed for more harmful dust variants.
7. Have Emergency Procedures in Place
In the case of an emergency, such as a spill or injury, you should have a plan that includes the right equipment to handle the incident, arrangements to deal with any waste, procedures in place to deal with a casualty, and properly trained staff.
8. Provide information, training and instruction
Any workers who may come into contact with dust, including maintenance and cleaning staff, must have sufficient training.
They should understand the risks caused by dust, how to use and check control measures, how to use their protective equipment properly, and what to do in an emergency.
9. Involve Your Workers
A great way to ensure your workers understand your control measures is to involve them in their creation. This way, you can get their input as to whether the measures suit the way they work and if they see any problems.
10. Implement Health Surveillance Where Appropriate
In cases where employees may be exposed to a dust that is linked to a particular health condition that is possible to detect and investigate safely, a health surveillance can help you to monitor your workers’ health.
The HSE are currently focusing their attention on industries where wood dust exposure can occur in order to protect the respiratory health of workers. If you are missing any necessary COSHH assessments, risk assessments, health surveillances or training, get in touch! WA Management can make sure your business is fully compliant.
We are currently running an offer on our Asbestos Awareness and Control of Hazardous Substances courses for this month only! Get 10% off these online training courses with the code ‘coshh10’ at checkout.
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