Miners, bakers, firefighters and glass producers are among those who share the same workplace hazard: exposure to dust.
It’s the responsibility of employers and the workers themselves to protect their health by planning for workplace dust hazards, according to EHS Today. EHS Today provides articles online about trends, management strategies, regulatory news and new products.
Risk factors of workplace dust exposure
Workers exposed to dusty areas face a greater risk than other workers of developing respiratory illnesses, which can impact your quality of life and even be fatal.
Workplace dust is unavoidable in many occupations, but in high concentrations it can go from being an irritant to a health risk.
Mineral dust such as silica, organic dust like wood and flour and mineral fibers like asbestos are all commonly found in workplaces. They can be dangerous when inhaled in high concentrations.
Silica dust has been linked to a recent rise in potentially fatal black lung disease in coal miners. In June 2019, Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, demanded the federal government enact new rules regulating silica dust in mines and cutting the exposure limit in half.
Preventative measures employers should take
Employers have a responsibility to establish steps to deal with workplace dust hazards and keep a safe environment for employees.
Steps employers can take with workplace dust hazards include:
- Give workers handouts that discuss materials they’ll be using, risks and details on how to avoid hazards and how to perform removal if it becomes a threat. Include as much detail as possible. This may include information about chemical structure and preventative measures to avoid injury.
- Include tips like fire evacuation steps specific to your building or warehouse.
- Be open with staff about health and safety changes and make regular communication a habit.
- Federal law requires that employers provide workers with protective gear relevant to their work hazards. For workers in places with high concentrations of fine dust, equipment should include gloves, barrier creams and other skin protection like long-sleeved clothing to avoid irritation, as well. For example, goggles, visors and masks to protect the eyes and respiratory system.
- Employers must monitor airborne dust concentrations with measuring devices and be ready to react such as by evacuating employees when levels become dangerously high.
- Regular health and safety training should be a staple at sites with workplace dust hazards.
- Employers should be open with workers about expectations when it comes to following health and safety policies. When introducing a safety procedure or materials, perhaps follow up with a drill to see how workers react.
- Getting employees to support these steps can be a challenge because it can mean adding work. Employers should detail the benefits of maintaining safety standards in the face of workplace dust hazards. Consider offering rewards to workers who take on extra training.
- The first step in tackling large dust spills or areas with high concentrations of particles is to control spreading by closing off contaminated areas.
- In open warehouses, use partitions to block areas affected by dust to stop particles spreading.
- In smaller workplaces and those without partitions, install a local exhaust ventilation system, which extracts airborne dust and fumes, preventing the concentration in the air from becoming dangerous.
- An industrial vacuum is the most effective way to tackle large spills and dust contamination in big workplaces like warehouses.
Combustible dust fires and explosions are preventable when proper safety measures are taken. According to OSHA, incidents can be avoided by employing three key measures:
- Capture: Dust should be captured before it becomes dispersed throughout the workplace. If the materials you work with emit dust, your employer should have a dust collection system in place.
- Contain: Dust should only be contained within equipment, systems, or rooms that are built and operated to safely handle it.
- Clean: Employers should know where dust accumulates and frequently clean all work areas. This includes overhead surfaces, behind equipment, and everywhere in between.
Contact McLaughlin & Sanchez in San Diego, California today for help with workplace dust hazards and other on-the-job problems.