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How Important is RPE and Dust Extraction?

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 quarriesdust from coal, flint and silica
Construction sites dust from cement and asbestos
Farming and Agriculturedust from grain
Carpentry and Joinerydust from wood
Bakeries and millsdust from flour
Textilesdust 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 (RPE) 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.

At Safewell we provide Lung function testing and Face fit testing for RPE and guidance on the correct masks required.

Check out the HSE Dust Hub for further guidance.

Controlling dust is imperative on every jobsite and the HSE in the UK has laid down stringent guidelines which should be followed. This isn’t just for the sake of it, rather dust is harmful. It’s as simple as that.

The HSE has published figures which state that around 8000 people each year in the UK alone lose their life due to cancer caused by inhaling hazardous dust particles. In addition, around 39,000 people each year suffer from respiratory health issues due to inhaling dust particles. Let’s put that first number into perspective: in the UK in 2015, 1732 people were killed in road traffic accidents. Therefore, you’re almost 5 times more likely to die from harmful dust inhalation at work than you are in a car crash.

For HSE guidance click here. 




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Glenn Lawton
December 23, 2021

White Stuff Ltd

Safewell has been working alongside us for several years now and I have had the pleasure of working with them for the past few years. They are always professional with their approach and always on hand if we require any ad-hoc advice to support our health and safety needs. I cannot recommend them enough and would definitely suggest to anyone looking for advice or services in regards to anything health and safety related to contact Safewell.

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