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Dust - not nice stuff

Dust can be a problem in almost any industry. The hazards of dusts like silica and wood are well recognised, and there is plenty of specific guidance available for these dusts, but there are many more substances that generate dusts which are hazardous to health. Exposure to all such dusts needs to be prevented or, where this is not reasonably practicable, adequately controlled.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) 2002 were established to protect workers from the exposure to hazardous substances (Asbestos and lead are not covered by COSHH but have their own separate regulations). It sets out the legal requirements for protecting people in the workplace against health risks from hazardous substances, including dust and respiratory sensitisers (substances which cause occupational asthma). Under COSHH employers are obliged to:

  • make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to health from the dust(s) concerned and of the steps that need to be taken to meet the requirements of COSHH

  • implement those steps before the work begins

Dust is not always an obvious hazard because the particles which cause the most damage are often invisible to the naked eye and the health effects of exposure can take years to develop. The harmful effects of dust can vary, from skin irritation to lung cancer, depending on the composition of the dust and the type and degree of exposure.

Many substances that can create dust have been given a Workplace Exposure Limit under The COSHH Regulations, however hot all dusty materials have a WEL. It is important to remember that the lack of a limit does not mean that the substance is safe. Where dusts do not have a WEL but there is evidence of potential hazards to health, employers should consider setting their own in-house standards, taking into account good control practice.

Control measures usually involve a combination of equipment and ways of working to reduce exposure. The right combination is crucial. No measures, however practical, can work unless they are used properly. In order of priority the right combination of control measures could include:

  1. Eliminate the use of a harmful product or substance and use a safer one.

  2. Use a safer form of the product, eg paste rather than powder.

  3. Change the process to emit less of the substance.

  4. Enclose the process so that dust does not escape.

  5. Extract dust emissions near the source.

  6. Minimise the number of workers that are at risk.

  7. Apply suitable administrative controls, such as reducing the length of time that workers are exposed to dust.

  8. Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, coveralls and a respirator. PPE must fit the wearer. The provision of PPE, if required, should be in addition to the measures above, not instead of.

Take this opportunity to check and see if dust could be an issue in your workplace and contact us here should you have any concerns.

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