Dangers of dust guide

Many work activities can create dust, and exposure to any dust in excessive amounts can create respiratory problems.

Dust can be a problem in almost any industry. The hazards of dusts like silica and wood are well recognised, and HSE produces specific guidance for these dusts, but there are many more substances that generate dusts which are hazardous to health. Exposure to all such dusts needs to be prevented or, where this is not reasonably practicable, adequately controlled.

Many work activities can create dust. Some examples are:

  • filling bags or emptying them into skips or other containers;
  • weighing loose powders;
  • cutting, eg paving stones;
  • sieving and screening operations;
  • conveying materials by mechanical means or by hand;
  • stockpiling large volumes of processed materials;
  • crushing and grading;
  • milling, grinding, sanding down or other similar operations;
  • cleaning and maintenance work;
  • feeding livestock from bags or conveyor systems;
  • clearing up spillages.

Some simple checks may help in identifying whether a problem exists:

  • Is the material naturally dusty?
  • Does the work you do create dust by mechanical or other means?
  • Is dust liable to be disturbed?

Visible dust on pipes, surfaces, ledges etc may indicate the presence of airborne dust. However, many dust particles are too fine to be visible under normal lighting conditions. A dust lamp, which provides a powerful beam of light, can be used as a quick method to show whether a fine dust is present, and helps to pinpoint the sources and movements of such dust.

What are the effects on health?

  • Exposure to any dust in excessive amounts can create respiratory problems.
  • The harmful effects of dust can vary, from skin irritation to lung cancer,

depending on the composition of the dust and the type and degree of exposure.

Dust is not always an obvious hazard because the particles which cause the most damage are often invisible to the naked eye and the health effects of exposure can take years to develop.

COSHH assessment

The COSHH Regulations require employers to assess the risk to their employees, and to prevent or adequately control the exposure of employees to substances hazardous to health. You should:

  • make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to health from the dust(s) concerned and of the steps that need to be taken to meet the requirements of COSHH; and
  • implement those steps before the work begins.

Sometimes air sampling may be needed to find out the level of exposure. These measurements should be made under normal working conditions and may be supported by the observation of light scatter by using a dust lamp to detect any less obvious escapes of very fine dust.

A risk assessment should include:

  • an assessment of the risks to health from dust which should include:
    • –  information on the hazardous nature of the dust;
    • –  the type of exposure (inhalation, dermal or ingestion);
    • –  how the exposure occurs;
  • details of the controls to be used; and
  • if appropriate, arrangements for emergency procedures.

If you employ five or more people, the significant findings of the assessment must be written down, along with the steps you are taking to prevent or control exposure.