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Keeping dust under control at work

Long-term exposure to hazardous dust considerably increases the risk of occupational disease. According to current international lung disease estimates, exposure to dust hazards at work is a factor in: 15% of adult-onset asthma; 15% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); and 10–30% of lung cancers.

 

When fine particles from many construction materials become airborne they can: 

 
  • Be inhaled into the lungs causing serious respiratory issues;

  • Enter the eyes causing irritation, obscuring vision or causing loss of vision;

  • Create slip hazards when, dust settles on the ground; and

  • Interfere with the operation of workplace machines and equipment.

 

Working with wood, metal, and products containing silica or asbestos present significant health risks.

Silica
 
Silica is a mineral that exists in many natural and man made construction products, including asphalt, brick, cement, drywall, grout, stone and tile. Silica dust is produced when mechanical processes – like cutting, crushing, drilling, grinding or polishing – are applied to these materials.
 
The hazards:
 
Long-term exposure to silica dust can lead to chronic health conditions like silicosis, lung cancer and COPD. The severity of risk depends on the size of the dust particulates, and the duration of exposure.
 
Preventing exposure:
   
Following recent changes to dust control regulations in some Australian states, Coates Hire has begun trialling a new silica dust mitigation range. These products allow our clients across a range of industries to minimise dust hazards and keep people safe. 
 
Metal dust
 
Metal dust is produced by processes which cause small metal particles to become airborne – like grinding or welding steel, and dry-sanding paint containing cadmium, lead, or chromium. Other hazardous metal dusts include cobalt, beryllium, tungsten carbide, iron, tin and barium. 
 
The hazards:
 
Long-term exposure to metal dust can lead to chronic respiratory disease (like siderosis – or welder’s lung) and cause damage to lung function, the nervous system and organs like the liver and kidneys. 
 
Preventing exposure:
 
  • Always work with adequate ventilation when performing hazardous metalworking tasks.
  • Wear appropriate PPE – including clothing that will protect your skin, eyes and lungs.
  • Remember to change your clothes before leaving work to avoid dust transfer to your home.
 Asbestos
 
Asbestos is the collective name for six naturally occurring silicate minerals that became popular in the manufacture of Australian building products during the 1940s – widely used in construction until it was phased out in the 1980s.
 
The hazards:
 
Asbestos products become dangerous when damaged or broken, releasing fine crystal particles into the air that can be easily inhaled. Decades of exposure to asbestos can cause a range of serious health conditions like asbestosis, mesothelioma, pleural disease, lung and other cancers. 
 
Preventing exposure:
 
  • Beware of asbestos when working on structures built before 1980.
  • Regularly assess asbestos risks in your workplace and educate employees on this hazard.
  • If the risk of asbestos is present, perform regular air quality assessments and provide staff with respiratory protective equipment if exposure limits are exceeded.
  • If you come into contact with asbestos at work, quickly implement the necessary control measures to keep people safe, and bring in professional asbestos removal teams. 
 
Wood dust
 
Wood may seem harmless, but working with wood generates fine particles that quickly become airborne, later settling on the floor, furniture, our clothes and skin, and inside our lungs when inhaled.
 
The hazards:
 
Exposure to wood dust causes a number of respiratory issues like asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis and chronic bronchitis. It is also thought to increase the risk of dermatitis and cancer.
 
Preventing exposure:
 
  • Implement engineered solutions like local exhaust ventilation to remove dust at or near its source.
  • Use vacuums instead of brooms to clean up.
  • Use on-tool dust extraction technologies.
  • Always wear appropriate PPE like eye protection and masks.
 
Please get in touch to find out more about dust mitigation strategies to suit your business. 
Or find your local branch.

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