Many work activities produce dust, such as cutting, sanding, demolishing, and drilling – meaning it is present in a number of different working environments.
Ill health caused by dust, such as respiratory or gastrointestinal issues, may take years to develop. This, coupled with the fact that dust particles are often not visible, means that dust is not always an obvious issue.
So, what do you need to know about controlling dust in the workplace?
Why dust is a problem for health in workplace?
Dust can cause a variety of health effects. Some are more obvious and short-term like eye or skin irritation. However, over time dust can build up and cause long term health effects that can negatively affect a worker’s quality and quantity of life. The long-term effects include lung cancer, asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease (COPD) and silicosis.
COPD includes emphysema (damage to the air sacs in the lungs) and chronic bronchitis (long term inflammation of the airways). Symptoms of it include increasing breathlessness, a persistent chesty cough, frequent chest infections and persistent wheezing. These symptoms can negatively affect your quality of life and when combined with other chest infections, may shorten it considerably.
Silicosis is a long-term lung disease caused by inhaling large amounts of silica dust, usually over many years. Once inside the lungs, it causes swelling (inflammation) and gradually leads to areas of hardened and scarred lung tissue (fibrosis). Lung tissue that’s scarred in this way doesn’t function properly.
These diseases can cause permanent disability and early death. According to the HSE, it is believed that over 500 construction workers are believed to die from exposure to silica dust every year.
What are the employer duties for protecting against dust at work?
In the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974), under section 2 it states that ‘It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.’ It goes on to elaborate further regarding training and the maintenance of the working environment, but the key point is that the employer has a legal responsibility to manage dust and protect their workers to the best of their abilities.
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (2002) regulations further add to the above duties. They state that an employer shall not carry out work which is liable to expose employees to any COSHH substances unless a suitable risk assessment has been carried out and control measures enacted.
These regulations both cover the control of dust in the workplace due to the health hazard dust poses.
How do you control dust in the workplace?
There are several different ways to reduce dust and control it. Some ways include eliminating dust production all together. This might mean getting the right size of building materials so no cutting is necessary, a different fastening system that means no drilling is needed or even just using a less powerful tool like a block splitter instead of a cut-off saw.
Ways to control dust can include using water to dampen down dust clouds, on-tool extraction like a Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) system that fits directly onto the tool. LEV can also be used on cutting stations or as stationary dust extractor cubes to reduce the dust levels in the air.
Other easy controls to put in place are limiting the number of people near the work, rotating those doing the task and enclosing the work area to stop dust escaping.
Finally, RPE (Respiratory Protective Equipment) can help stop the dust from entering the employee’s airways. RPE can be an air-fed hood or a tight-fitting particulate mask that could be a full or half mask. Whatever RPE is being used, it must be adequate for the amount and type of dust, suitable for the work, worn correctly and face fitted if it is a tight-fitting mask.
How can WA Management help?
WA Management offer bespoke risk assessments for any activities that may expose your workers to dust particles, complete with recommended controls to mitigate any negative effects. Get in touch to learn more!
Asbestos Awareness and Control of Hazardous Substances (COSHH) training courses are essential tools in protecting your workers from the effects of harmful substances. Make sure you don’t miss out on our 10% off deal on these courses, available until the end of April. Simply enter the code ‘hazardous10’ at checkout to save!
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