Dangers of Dust in the Workplace

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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