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Dangers of Dust in the Workplace

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 5 Dec 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Dust Workplace Work Environments

Excessive dust in the workplace can be highly dangerous on a number of levels. Firstly, although it’s rare, a cloud of concentrated dust is potentially combustible and can, therefore, cause explosions so it’s important that companies keep their working environments as relatively dust-free as they can to avoid such potential catastrophes. 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.

Common Environments For Contracting Dust Related Illnesses

All workplaces need to carry out cleaning duties and pay particular regard to hygiene issues and, for the most part, in places such as an office for example, dust should not present too much of a problem. However, there are many industries which need to be especially vigilant. 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. The range of dust related illnesses and conditions encompass eye and nose damage, rashes and other skin conditions, asthma, silicosis, asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer related to asbestos. Pneumoconiosis, which is the name given to diseases such as those caused by the likes of asbestosis and silicosis, is 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 often take several decades for a person to develop any symptoms of pneumoconiosis which can manifest itself in things like excess coughing, breathing difficulties and even weight loss.

Prevention and Reducing the Risks

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 in place specific to certain industries, the Coal Mines (Respirable Dust) Regulations 1975, being a prime example.

From an employer’s perspective, they need to do all they can to eliminate or, at least, disperse the dust. An exhaust ventilation system will remove the dust from a particular site whilst a dilution ventilation system helps to disperse dust evenly throughout a particular area as opposed to allowing it to build up into a concentrated mass within one specific spot. Where dust has a fundamental presence within a particular occupation, workers need to be provided with the correct protective clothing and with breathing respirators if need be. 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.

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 condition or illness has come about as a direct consequence of your working environment, although 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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J - Your Question:
I have worked in a very dusty warehouse for the passed 12 years. I have had an eye test and they said I have damaged my eyes due to high levels of dust exposure. My eyes are constantly red and are always sore. The warehouse has never been professionally cleaned and the dust in some areas are inches think. Always have problems with my nose and throat etc.

Our Response:
You would need to take this up directly with your employer. As specified in the article, from an employer’s perspective, they need to do all they can to eliminate or, at least, disperse the dust. 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. Please see HSE link here, for more information.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 5-Dec-17 @ 3:00 PM
I have worked in a very dusty warehouse for the passed 12 years. I have had an eye test and they said I have damaged my eyes due to high levels of dust exposure. My eyes are constantly red and are always sore. The warehouse has never been professionally cleaned and the dust in some areas are inches think. Always have problems with my nose and throat etc.
J - 5-Dec-17 @ 1:57 AM
Im a cleaner that cleans a cleanish area in a building but building work has started last week dust in the air all over the walls doors carpets etc all my clothes shoes every night is the same. Plus I worry I may be breathing in dangerous dust asbestos etc plus I have for small children and worry about taking that dust home with me. My employer / site manager has told me I have to clean it as its part of my work area... I only do 6 hrs a week and to breath in dust of this level plus electrical wires hanging from ceiling as they have also removed the false ceiling. More dust and plaster. No hazardous warning signs have ever been put out in the hole 1 x week 3 days. They building dates back to 17th century Which adds to my worry Do I have to clean this. Can my manager or employer make me clean this ? Thanks Joe
Joe - 17-Oct-17 @ 6:46 PM
Laks - Your Question:
Hi I work in a where houses were there is a lot of dust but never notice it until I come home have a wash and blow my nose. And a lot of black dust comes out how can I go about this problem?

Our Response:
You should speak directly to your employer and/or line manager and discuss the issues and how they are affecting you. Your employer should work with you to find a satisfactory solution to the problem such as an air mask.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 5-Oct-17 @ 2:42 PM
Hi I work in a where houses were there is a lot of dust but never notice it until I come home have a wash and blow my nose. And a lot of black dust comes out how can I go about this problem?
Laks - 4-Oct-17 @ 6:12 PM
I have COPD, and live across from a building which is to be knocked down, and a 3 storey block of flats built to replace it. I suffered last year whena small amount of building work was done further up the road. Needless to say, I didn't know that this was projected when I bought my house 3 years ago. Last year I went to live at a friend's for 3 weeks, not nearly the full time of the building work, however. I can't keep moving out, so what on earth can I do?
Amybeth - 18-Apr-17 @ 11:49 AM
I work in an industrial laundry that processes dirty hospital linnen. This is an enclosed area of approximately 30mtrs by14 mtrs which is air conditioned. Unfortunately the air conditioning is inadequate. We processs over 250 tonne of dirty linena week as you can imagine this environment is very dusty should industrial fans be placed in this environment ?
Fred - 14-Mar-17 @ 1:54 PM
I work on passenger trains inside maintenance which produces a lot of dust off chairs and carpets I'm suffering sinus problems is there and any substance I could line my nose with that would stop dust mites entering my nasel passage or would wearing dust mask be the only answer it's very hot so dust mask is very uncomfortable thank you
Rate11 - 21-Jan-17 @ 10:18 AM
I work in a food factory. We get regular medicals. There is a lot of dust from the product. Wheat. When i am off my ears are fine. My hearing is fine. Within 2 weeks of being at work my ears are blocked. We do wear ear protection but not dust masks unless using airlines for cleaning. Our occupational health providers keep changing therefore i fear there is no prolonged check on the dust levels. There was a dust level check done a few years ago but even though i have asked the results are unknown...at least to me!
Annie - 11-Jan-17 @ 12:12 AM
I work in a sweet factory. I used to love sherbet but working with it is horrible now. All the dust it creates. I have a constant headache and always sneeze and cough. But they don't have dust masks as PPI. Is sherbet bad for your lungs and shouldn't they already be taking precautions. It's affecting me at work and my health generally. I just don't know what I should do.
Bino - 24-Nov-16 @ 1:41 AM
Denise - Your Question:
My husband works in a warehouse, and since he has been working there he has been getting these bad rashes on his inner arms, his neck , and thighs. We are are trying to figure out whats what's causing it ,his Dr didn't seem to think it was nothing that needed a percription to him to buy some cream over the counter. but it looks very serious to me and it itches

Our Response:
I'm afraid we cannot anticipate what the rashes may be - he would have to see how the rashes progress and would have to visit his GP again, if they persist. It may be co-incidence they have come when he has been working in his current job, some allergy tests may be needed.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 26-Sep-16 @ 12:27 PM
My husband works in a warehouse, and since he has been working there he has been getting these bad rashes on his inner arms, his neck , and thighs. We are are trying to figure out whats what's causing it ,his Dr didn't seem to think it was nothing that needed a percription to him to buy some cream over the counter.. but it looks very serious to me and it itches
Denise - 25-Sep-16 @ 4:54 PM
I work in a ware house which don't get me wrong is bound to be dusty! but at the moment they are developing the warehouse and rebuilding it. It's covered in paint fumes, carbon monoxide fumes from generators and sissors lifts and about four inches of dust. No exhaguration! And we're customer service based but the noise of them angle grinding etc is ridiculous! Recently I've had bad vertigo, feeling heavy chested, sick and a horrible painful gut! Can this be related to the dust I'm inhaling? And all the rest I'm breathing in? It's just everywhere! You can even see it in the air, yet noone will clear it up. It's so bad I'm cleaning my boots every ten minutes because there covered. And I'm washing my clothes and warehouse coat and trousers every single day even when I'm not wearing them just because there covered in so much dust! What can I do about this? The company I work for think that there doing everything properly via risk assessment and health and safety etc; but I feel like i can't breathe!We have no windows or doors close to us. It's so hot and clammy? Can I do anything about this? Because I've been told if o have anymore time off work I'll loose my job, but I can't help it I'm uncomfortable there.
Accidentpro - 11-Sep-16 @ 7:57 PM
Leojan - Your Question:
I do a voluntary shift in a charity shop , selling mostly clothes. I have noticed lint dust around the shop and the day after I have worked in the shop I cough quite a lot , the cough is productive but clear. It has occurred to me that there should be extractor fans to remove this dust as it could be injurious to health but I am reluctant to say anything as I enjoy the work now that I am retired and would like to continue working there. I am not sure what to do?

Our Response:
I can only suggest you mention this to your line manager. Does the charity employ cleaners?
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 22-Aug-16 @ 12:46 PM
I do a voluntary shift in a charity shop , selling mostly clothes . I have noticed lint dust around the shop and the day after I have worked in the shop I cough quite a lot , the cough is productive but clear. It has occurred to me that there should be extractor fans to remove this dust as it could be injurious to health but I am reluctant to say anything as I enjoy the work now that I am retired and would like to continue working there. I am not sure what to do?
Leojan - 21-Aug-16 @ 11:05 PM
@San - According to the HSE, the law requires employers and the self-employed to conduct their business in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons affected are not exposed to risks to their health or safety. Therefore, because this is an unusual question and if you have concerns, you may want to contact the HSE direct to find out, via the link here. I hope this helps.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 31-Mar-15 @ 10:16 AM
I am a support worker working in a house supporting people with various disabilities. The company I work for is having building work done on the property I work in. New kitchen,floors wall being knocked out, fire doors etc. they have told us they will work round us. How can this be. I'm concerned for the health of the tenants as well as myself. Is this legal. ?
San - 28-Mar-15 @ 3:38 PM
I'm working for pikitup under RcR loading my problem is we are exposed to dust everyday the only thing they provide for safety are dust mask once or when somebody from the head office is coming for inspection on how we do our jobs if possible provide me with the right door to complain cause I'm experiancing some of the symp
papas - 10-Mar-15 @ 8:54 PM
@casper - you don't say if have you had any effects/illness as what you perceive to be as a result of working in this environment. I'm afraid I can not give any advice on this question, I can only direct you to the HSE guidelines for you to to see whether your company has kept within those limits and whether or not you may have been affected. Please see link here. I hope this helps.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 19-Feb-15 @ 11:48 AM
Hi i was working at a concrete company for four years i worked ther 3 years with just paper mask dust masks the dust was exsesiv nd we was clearly not wearing the rite dust masks then we was given rubber 1s i dont work ther now would i be entiteld to compensation
casper - 17-Feb-15 @ 7:35 PM
I co-own a carwash and behind us is a skip place which grinds down there own rubble. This creates a lot of dust which then comes over to our premises, exposing us to 'sand storms'. This clearly isn't good for business and neither to the health of myself and our staff. Is there any action we could take against this skip hire company to get them to contain the dust within their area (their dust makes our car wash cleaning doubly hard as well). We have approached the owners who were less than polite to us. Any advice would be appreciated.
Fossie - 6-Jul-14 @ 9:59 PM
Do you know when the regulation limiting the mining dusts was put into effect (for the United Kingdom)?
baley frosh - 15-Feb-12 @ 7:16 PM
During my 24 yrs, army service I was heavly exposed without protection to many substances known to cause breathing and lung problems. These substances comprised of Diesel fumes, heavy prolonged exposure to building dust, Asbestos, organic dust and fungal spores, and animal dander.I have been diagnosed with COPD do I have a claim?
Nobby. - 26-Mar-11 @ 8:26 AM
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