This blog was written for a PMA Marketing client and published on 16 August 2015
The Health Risks of Dusty Work Environments and How to Protect Yourself From Them
Have you considered the health risks of working in a dusty workplace? Safe Work Australia conducted a National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance in 2010 through Sweeney Research and found that nearly 40% of Australian workers are exposed to airborne hazards in the workplace. Furthermore, nearly half of those workers were exposed to dust in the workplace. The research also found that technicians, trades workers, machinery operators and drivers, and labourers had the highest risk of being exposed to airborne hazards.
So are you at risk of harmful dust exposure and what can you do to protect yourself?
What is Dust and Where Does It Come From?
Firstly, let’s clarify what dust is and in what form it can be found in workplaces.
Dust is made up of tiny solid particles from the atmosphere that comes from different sources such as soil, pollution or human skin cells. It can come in the form of dry particles such as metal dust and oxide, limestone and marble, gypsum and plaster of Paris, paper fibre, cement and starch.
There are two types of dust particles; organic and inorganic. Inorganic dust can come from metals or minerals whereas organic dust particles originate from plants or animals. Organic chemicals such as pesticides or dyes can also generate dust.
What are the health risks of dusty workplaces?
Although workplaces have generally improved air quality and are more aware of related health risks, the effects of a dusty workplace have not yet disappeared. The most likely way of being affected by dust is through inhalation. Minor effects include irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. However, workers are also susceptible to a number of more serious dust-related respiratory diseases.
The table below lists the more common lung diseases found by Safe Work Australia in their 2010 research.
Inorganic Dust & Type of Disease
- Asbestos – Asbestosis
- Silica (Quartz) – Silicosis
- Coal Coal – Pneumoconiosis
- Beryllium – Beryllium Disease
- Tungsten Carbide – Hard Metal Disease
- Iron – Siderosis
- Tin – StannosisBarium – Baritosis
Organic Dust & Type of Disease
- Mouldy hay, straw and grain – Farmer’s lung
- Droppings and feathers – Bird fancier’s lung
- Mouldy sugar can – Bagassosis
- Compost dust – Mushroom worker’s lung
- Dust or mist – Humidifier fever
- Dust of heat-treated sludge – Sewage sludge disease
- Mould dust – Cheese washers’ lung
How can you protect yourself from the health risks of dusty workplaces?
There are things that you can do to protect yourself from the health risks of dust in the workplace. Protective clothing and equipment may be necessary depending on your line of work. However, this does not replace the need for proper dust control.
Workplaces should be properly ventilated. Fans and extraction units should reduce the levels of respiratory by-products, provide fresh air supply, exhaust stale air and filter and recirculate the indoor air. These systems must be regularly serviced and maintained by the manufacturer to ensure optimum air quality. Negligence on the part of the manufacturer can cause significant respiratory problems.
The good news is that cleaning up the air quality in workplaces can have almost immediate health benefits. Talk to your employer today if you are concerned about the air quality in your workplace.