Dangers of Dust in the Workplace – How to Reduce Dust Hazards

A lot of dust in the workplace can be dangerous on a number of levels. Firstly, although rare, a cloud of dust is potentially combustible. It can cause explosions, so it’s important that companies keep their working environments as dust free as they can. However, the most common problem associated with dust in the workplace arises from dust related illnesses which have been found to be one of the major killers in the UK when it comes to occupational health.

workplace safety sign warning of asbestos dust

Common Environments For Dust Hazards

There are many industries which need to be especially vigilant about dust hazards. Here is a list of some of the more common working environments where excess dust can create a real problem.

  • Mines and quarries – dust from coal, flint and silica.
  • Construction sites – dust from cement and asbestos.
  • Farming and Agriculture – dust from grain.
  • Carpentry and Joinery – dust from wood.
  • Bakeries and mills – dust from flour.
  • Textiles – dust from materials like leather.

Dust Related Illnesses

Workers can suffer from a variety of illnesses and medical conditions as a result of working in dust filled environments. Depending on the nature of the work, some of these ailments can become more serious than others.

Dust related illnesses and conditions include:-

  • Eye and nose damage.
  • Rashes and other skin conditions.
  • Asthma.
  • Silicosis.
  • Asbestosis.
  • Mesothelioma and lung cancer related to asbestos.

Pneumoconiosis is the name given to diseases such as those caused by asbestosis and silicosis. It’s a broad term which describes any condition which affects the lungs causing inflammation or scarring of the lung tissue. One of the major worries is that it can take several decades for a person to develop any symptoms of pneumoconiosis. The condition can manifest itself in things like excess coughing, breathing difficulties and even weight loss.

Prevention and Risk Reduction

There are a number of government legislations which incorporate provisions which are aimed at minimising the risk from dust. These include the Factories Act 1961, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1988. There are also other regulations specific to certain industries, the Coal Mines (Respirable Dust) Regulations 1975, for example.

Workplaces have a duty of care to do all they can to eliminate or, at least, disperse the dust. An exhaust ventilation system will remove the dust from a work site. A dilution ventilation system helps to disperse dust evenly as opposed to allowing it to build up into a concentrated mass within one work area. Where dust is commonly present, workers need to be provided with the correct protective clothing and with respirators if needed. These are much better than dust masks which have often been proved to be relatively ineffective.

Employers should also ensure that workers undergo regular health checks which might pinpoint any early signs of illness. Work areas with high dust concentrations need to have proper workplace fire safety measures in place.

What to do if You Think You’ve Contracted a Dust Related Illness

If you think your health has been adversely affected by dust in the workplace, you could be entitled to compensation. If it’s proven that your illness has come about as a consequence of your working environment, it’s crucial that you file a claim within 3 years of any diagnosis.

Legal professionals who specialise in accident at work and industrial illness will be able to advise you whether or not you have a strong enough case to make a claim and how to pursue it.

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