Industry expert Tim Turney at occupational hygiene and environmental expert Casella, shares how employers can effectively protect their workers from hazardous exposure to dust
Dust in the workplace continues to receive national attention as a hidden killer. The latest Health & Safety Executive (HSE) statistics revealed that 12,000 deaths were reported as a result of lung disease from past exposures at work. Annually, there are an estimated 19,000 new cases of lung or breathing problems believed to be caused or made worse by the working environment.
To support the health and safety of workers, the HSE is planning targeted site visits across the UK this summer, supporting its “Dust Kills” campaign focused on respiratory risks from hazardous dust exposure.
There are a wide range of substances in the workplace that have the potential to cause harm to health if ingested, inhaled, or in contact with skin, often leading to irreversible respiratory diseases, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Inspectors will check if control measures are in place to protect workers from inhaling construction dust, including silica (Respirable Crystalline Silica/RCS) and wood dust. They will also check that asbestos-containing materials have been identified and removed or managed where necessary to prevent or reduce exposure.
Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations (COSHH), the levels of inhalable general dust in the workplace should not exceed 10mg/m3 and the level of respirable dust must not exceed 4 mg/m3. Employers are advised to control levels constantly to ensure such maximums are never reached. From the thousands of substances that can be found within a working environment, 500 are given specific limits, under Workplace Exposure Limits regulations, commonly referred to as WELs. For example, cobalt metal has an exposure limit of 0.1 mg/m3 and silica is 0.1 mg/m3, meaning workers can only be exposed to a small amount before the substance potentially becomes hazardous to health. If such substances are identified in the working environment, employers must be familiar with the relevant exposure limit figures. If a substance does not have a published WEL, it doesn’t mean it is safe and exposure should be limited to as low as is practicably possible.
Personal monitoring in the form of personal dust sampling pumps is the preferred method to measure dust exposure levels in the workplace, allowing employers to remain compliant with government safety standards with a completely accurate record of individual exposure levels.
Personal sampling pumps offer a more enhanced monitoring system that can always provide data records. Data can be collected throughout seasonal and weather changes – in the summer months, there may be better ventilation, where windows might be open, as opposed to winter months, where lower ventilation can make for a dustier environment. Based on the findings, further practices for dust control can be modified. Workers may be required to wear additional respiratory protective equipment, or the location may need to be fitted with ventilation systems.
When new processes are introduced, including new machinery and ventilation equipment systems, the sampling pumps enable tests to keep exposure limits to a minimum. Ultimately, this allows workforces to become more engaged, with more insight than ever on the steps being taken to measure and improve their health in the workplace.
Casella urges businesses to put measures in place to protect employees from hazardous exposure as occupational lung disease continues to impact the lives of workers in Great Britain.