Health Hazards of Dust-July 2016

Monthly Round Up of Important Ideas and Standards in
Industrial Hygiene and Safety

July 2016

IN THIS ISSUE: Health Hazards of Dust

In recent years, there is has been concern about the potential combustibility of dusts. Explosions and loss of life have been reported because facilities have failed to keep dust levels at a minimum. In addition, the presence of dusty operations can also present a health hazard to employees.

Particulates, or dust, may be generated by many operations. Although not considered to be hazardous, particulates in large quantities can damage the lungs. Respirable particulates, small particles between 1 and 10 microns, can also damage the lungs. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), publish occupational exposure standards for Total and Respirable Particulates.

With enough dust, the body’s natural defense mechanisms may be overwhelmed by particulates. When a person inhales, particles suspended in the air enter the nose, but not all of them reach the lungs because the nose acts as a filter. Most large particles are stopped, until they are removed mechanically by blowing the nose or sneezing. Some of the smaller particles succeed in passing through the nose to reach the windpipe and the dividing air tubes that lead to the lungs. These tubes are called bronchi and bronchioles. Cells line all of these airways. The mucus they produce catches most of the dust particles. Tiny hairs called cilia, covering the walls of the air tubes, move the mucus upward and out into the throat, where it is either coughed up and spat out, or swallowed.

It is important to determine what is in the dust. Hazardous metals, minerals, and other materials can have health effects at much lower levels of exposure the typical dust. There may be separate standards for materials such as asbestos and silica.

To avoid respiratory or other problems caused by exposure to dust, engineering control methods should be introduced. Some examples include:
Use of wet processes
Enclosure of dust-producing processes under negative air pressure
Exhausting air through a collection system before emission to the atmosphere
Use of vacuums instead of brooms
Good housekeeping and maintenance
Efficient storage and transport

Although simple dust is not considered hazardous, in large quantities, it can damage the lungs. It is important that employees and management be aware of the health hazard and take action to limit and control it.

For more information on this topic and to discuss your company’s safety and industrial hygiene needs call OccuSafe at (214) 662-6005 or visit us at

OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. provides skills and expertise to recognize, evaluate and control hazards and injuries in the areas of industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health. OccuSafe services companies of all sizes in a range of industries.

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