Approximately 587,000 Australian workers were exposed to silica dust in the workplace in 2011. It has been estimated that 5758 of these will develop a lung cancer over the course of their life as a result of that exposure.

It’s just one example of occupational dust hazards causing health problems for workers, including those in construction, shingle manufacturing and glass production roles, which employers have a responsibility to address.

This blog outlines the steps businesses can take to manage dust exposure in the workplace and create a healthy and hazard-free environment for employees.

Dust is a common air pollutant. Many different sources and activities generate dust, including:

UNDERSTANDING THE RISKS

Workplace dust is unavoidable in many occupations, but in high concentrations it can go from being an irritant to a real health risk. Mineral dust such as silica, organic dust like wood and flour, and mineral fibres like asbestos all are commonly found in workplaces and can be dangerous when inhaled in high concentrations.

When you use a structured way to eliminate or reduce the risks of harm dust poses, it helps you:

HOW DUST IMPACTS OUR ENVIRONMENT

It’s not enough for employers to just recognise the dangers their work presents to employees. Actions must be taken to create a clear safety policy and actively remove the risks.When businesses and industries don’t manage dust, it can impact the environment in the following ways:

HOW TO MANAGE THE RISK FROM DUST

For many workers, completely avoiding dust isn’t an option. However, all businesses can take steps to minimize the risk of harm to employees. For example, employers are required by law to provide employees with personal protective equipment (PPE) relevant to their given workplace hazards.For those in environments with high concentrations of fine dust particles, standard PPE should include gloves, barrier creams and other skin protection like long-sleeved clothing to avoid irritation. It’s also important to protect employees’ eyes with goggles and visors and provide face coverings and masks to protect the respiratory system.

The controls you put in place will depend on:

Preventing dust is the best approach to reducing risk.

You should also: Minimise dust. For example, use wind barriers and dust suppression measures For example, use dust extractors and dust screens.

General dust and dirt can be reduced on site by complying with the following guidelines:

Replacement or substitution should always be considered first i.e., toxic for non-toxic materials

Suppression by using a wet process as opposed to a dry process may be sufficient to reduce the dust hazard

Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) plant should be considered good housekeeping and site planning will help in general to reduce dust and dirt created on-site

Store dusty materials in an enclosed area, reducing the potential of wind erosion

Ensure that all dust collecting equipment is properly maintained and is operated efficiently

Ensure that all vehicles are sheeted when transporting fine or contaminated materials