The problem with dust is that it’s everywhere. We consider it an everyday part of life and don’t give it much thought. However, the other problem with dust is that it comes in various shapes and sizes and can be incredibly damaging to people’s health.
The size of dust particles, combined with their pollutant content, has a direct impact on people’s health. Particles that are larger than 10 µm in diameter (1 micrometer is a thousandth of a millimeter) are classified as coarse dust. This type of dust is typically trapped by the nasal hairs or mucous membranes of the nasopharynx.
Smaller and finer dust particles are more of a problem. This type of dust – anything smaller than 10 µm – is easily breathed deep into the lungs. Regular exposure to this so-called alveolar dust is a real challenge in the workplace and can have a negative impact on productivity and efficiency.
With that in mind, it pays to know about the different types of dust and the various dust definitions. The better able you are at identifying dust, the sooner you can stop it from becoming a business problem.
Dust is generated by a variety of processes, both natural and industrial. For example, wind and weather cause solids to erode which creates dust. Manufacturing and mechanical processes as well as chemical reactions can all create dust which is then easily distributed within a workplace through everyday activities. Let’s take a closer look at the dust definitions putting your workplace most at risk.
Working with concrete releases very fine silica dust particles into the air. Breathing in too much of this type of dust poses serious health risks and can ultimately lead to silicosis. This disease, characterised by the thickening or scarring of the lungs, can cause lung cancer.
This is more commonly known as sawdust. Whenever wood is sanded, grinded, drilled or cut, fine particles of dust enter the air and form a thick layer of dust once they settle. It’s incredibly dangerous stuff to breathe in; excessive sawdust inhalation is linked to allergies and could cause cancer – although the extent of actual risks still needs to be determined.
Used chalk leaves traces of dust in the air and on surfaces. This dust is non-toxic but nonetheless, if it’s allowed to accumulate in the respiratory system then it can cause breathing problems or chest pains.
Rubber tyres are the biggest culprit of rubber dust. A simple skid on the road or more difficult driving conditions wears down rubber and causes fragments of rubber to come off. The same is true of indoor workplace vehicles like forklifts. As they do their rounds, they distribute rubber dust – as well as kick up other dust that may have settled on the floor. Normal ‘wear and tear’ is a problem too: as tyres compress and expand from regular use, shavings of rubber disperse and form dust. Rubber dust contains extremely toxic chemicals which have been proven to damage human DNA. For example, latex, a component of rubber dust, is often linked to allergies and asthma.
Fibreglass is essentially glass wool; it’s made up of fine filaments of glass and yarn, and then woven into a fabric. There is not enough evidence yet to link it to respiratory diseases, but many believe that excessive inhalation of fibreglass or plastic dust particles can and do cause breathing problems.
The process of drilling or grinding metal releases dust into the air which is harmful to humans. Workers exposed to this dust on a regular basis can suffer lung and throat irritations. However, there are certain types of metal dust that are more harmful than others. Metal that is made up of cobalt, lead or nickel in particular is extremely toxic and workers exposed to it need to wear a respirator to prevent harming their lungs permanently
So, as you can see, dust is not a mere irritation. It can become a serious health-hazard if left to accumulate in the workplace. Of course, the above dust definitions are unavoidable side-effects of various manufacturing sectors.
Dust cannot be avoided but it can be controlled. Our industrial air purifiers filter dust from the air as it circulates, keeping your dust levels under control, and your employees’ health safe.