With some estimated 12,000 lung disease deaths each year in the UK linked to past exposures to dust at work, employers should be aware of different types of dust and also of their responsibilities. Some tips can help you comply with stringent government standards on dust regulation.
The many types of dust that you may experience in the workplace can be categorised into two types. Inhalable dust is the larger of the two types of dust, most of which can be filtered out naturally in your nose and throat. Respirable dust is the more dangerous of the two. In this case, the dust particles cannot be filtered out by your nose or throat due to their small size. Therefore, they can cause you serious health problems with prolonged exposure by penetrating the pulmonary alveolar region of the lungs.
Where you categorise the common types of dust such as metallic dust and chemical dust is dependent on their size and therefore how dangerous they are.
Why should you care about dust suppression?
Dust exposure in the workplace is an issue both employers and employees need to be aware of, as it can lead to many different health problems. Here are some of the conditions dust exposure can cause and exacerbate, ranging from the mildly serious to the life-threatening.
Silicosis – respirable crystalline silica (RCS) causes irreversible effects of inflammation and fibrosis of the lung tissue, if exposed to over a prolonged period. Symptoms include a persistent cough and shortness of breath and can often become worse years after the initial exposure. An estimated 500 construction workers die each year from silicosis
Asthma – dust exposure radically affects how this common and long-term chronic disease is managed. Respirable dust particles are small enough to get right into your lungs, causing inflammation and swelling
of your airways, inducing your
Lung cancer – With an estimated 43% of annual deaths from lung disease at work being due to asbestos and non-asbestos-related lung cancer, exposure to dust is a serious health hazard.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – 33% of current annual deaths from occupational lung disease are from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Your responsibilities as an employer
Government legislation on minimising the amount of dust at the workplace takes many forms. The most significant that you have to be aware of as an employer are the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the 2002 Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations.
Reading and processing these legislations as an employer is imperative because they all state that employer is responsible to make the environment safe and suitable for their employees. As the employer you are legally and morally liable should you not adhere to them.
In a survey of UK construction professionals in 2012:
- Only 16% believed that their workers were aware of the dangers of breathing construction dust, and
- Only 12% felt the sector treated dust risks as a priority health issue. Of those working in the industry, 45% gave dust risks little to no priority.
These statistics outline how dangerously overlooked by all parties the impact exposure to dust is having in the workplace.
Top tips to keep you safe from dust exposure
- Control dust from source
This is the first and most crucial step you should consider if you want to prevent the health hazards associated with dust. To radically reduce the total amount of occupational dust present in your workplace you should stop the dust from source. Understand the products you sell and the procedures that take place in your work environment and ask yourself if anything can be modified or replaced to reduce the emissions from source. If your application requires spraying, consider whether it can be applied with a brush to reduce airborne dust or instead of using solvent-based products, switch to water-based products.
- Supply your employees with safety gear
It is a legal requirement for you as the employer to provide your employees with full safety wear and protective gear. That means protective clothing suitable for the levels of dust your employees will be experiencing. Dust filtration masks and respirators are an essential and need to be invested in to ensure your employees’ safety and for you to comply with government standards.
- Study and implement safety instructions
It is surprising how many employers and employees do not follow the safety instructions written for their benefit. Be aware of how dust can be generated from products, machines and procedures. Understanding how your equipment produces harmful dust, read product labels and put up warning signs in your workplace. Knowing the government regulations on safety and being proactive about reducing dust in your workplace is imperative when complying with government standards.
- Know when and how to use your control measures
Once you have these safety procedures and measures in place it is important that your employees are aware of what they do and why you have them. The importance of this cannot be underestimated and can only be done through effective education. Awareness of the dangers of dust is something that needs to be improved and it is your responsibility to educate your employees on this.
- Invest in an effective dust suppression system
An economical and easy to maintain dust suppression system is an essential investment if your workplace produces dust to any degree. By installing a dust suppression system in your workplace, you will be able to reduce dust exposure in the workplace to the legally required levels.
Protecting workers from dust is a legal and moral responsibility.
Control of Substances Hazardous to Health 2002 at: www.hse.gov.uk/coshh/
Robin Travis is Director Renby Ltd
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