Respirable Dust: Identifying Health Risks and Implementing Protective Measures 

24/05/2024by admin0Read: 5 minutes

In various industries and workplaces, the presence of respirable dust can pose significant health risks to workers. It is crucial for Australian businesses to understand these risks and implement protective measures to ensure the well-being of their employees. In this blog, we will explore what respirable dust is, the types of respirable dust, steps to identify health risks caused by it and protective measures that can be implemented to prevent exposure.

What is Respirable Dust?

The term “fraction of inhaled airborne particles that can penetrate beyond the terminal bronchioles into the gas-exchange region of the lungs” refers to respiratory dust, which is a subset of inhalable dust.

Respirable dust refers to particles suspended in the air that are small enough to be inhaled into the respiratory system. These particles are often produced during industrial processes, such as grinding, cutting, or drilling, and can include substances like silica, coal dust, asbestos fibres, and various metals. When these particles are inhaled, they can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause respiratory issues and other health problems.

Respiratory Dust particles are extremely small and not visible to the naked eye.

Types of Respirable Dust

There are several types of respirable dust that can be encountered in different workplaces. Some common types include:

1) Silica Dust: 

Silica dust is a major concern in industries such as construction, mining, and manufacturing. Exposure to silica dust can lead to silicosis, a serious lung disease that can be debilitating or even fatal.

2) Coal Dust: 

Workers in coal mining and related industries may face exposure to coal dust. Prolonged exposure to coal dust can result in diseases such as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), also known as black lung disease.

3) Asbestos Fibers: 

Although the use of asbestos has been banned in Australia, older buildings and structures may still contain asbestos materials. Inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Hazards Caused by Respirable Dust Exposure

For people who are allergic to dust, inhaling it typically has uncomfortable symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath, and asthma episodes. Because the dust particles, as previously indicated, can enter and remain in the lungs, breathing in respirable dust presents a greater risk. Chronic health problems that are difficult or impossible to treat may result from this.

1) Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) 

It covers a variety of conditions that restrict airflow in some way. Numerous studies show that those who breathe dust at work have a 1.5-fold increased risk of developing COPD.

2) Pulmonary Fibrosis (PF) 

The lung tissue thickens and stiffens in this region, making it more difficult for the lungs to function effectively. Patients with PF have an average survival time of three to five years because there is currently no treatment.

3) Pneumoconiosis 

The most frequent and potentially fatal result of breathing in respirable dust is this. The lungs get permanently scarred as a result of this limiting illness. Silicosis, asbestosis, and talcosis are the particular forms of this illness.

4) Cancer 

Any foreign item that enters the lungs has the potential to promote aberrant cell development. Up to 230 instances of silicosis developing into cancer per year were documented by the Cancer Council of Australia.

5) Heart Disease 

Respirable dust inhalation also makes the heart beat faster to assist the failing lungs in obtaining more oxygen. The ongoing, extra effort might cause cardiac failure.

Industries Releasing Respirable Dust

The following sectors are regarded as having a high risk of accidents:

  1. Construction and demolition.
  2. Mining and quarrying.
  3. Stone masonry and fabrication.
  4. Foundries.
  5. Oil and gas extractions.
  6. Manufacturing (glass, metal casting, paint, etc.).

Although respirable dust is an occupational hazard in the industries mentioned above, the general public should still take necessary precautions when undertaking similar, albeit less complicated, work at home, such as DIY construction projects.

This is due to the omnipresent nature of silica, which may be the most frequent respirable particle. In reality, this substance is present in practically all building materials, such as stone, cement, and ceramic. The crystalline silica dust enters the air when cutting, grinding, drilling, sanding, and chipping. Anyone around is certain to breathe this in, especially if there are no safety precautions in place.

Workplace Exposure Standard for Respirable Dust

As per the regulation, there is a workplace exposure standard or occupational exposure limit for each type of respirable dust.

Commonwealth, state, and territory WHS legislation demands compliance with the WES.

From 1 September 2020, the occupational exposure limits (OEL) for respirable dust and respirable crystalline silica (RCS) are 1.5mg/m3 and 0.05mg/m3 respectively.

When it comes to coal dust, the workers cannot be exposed to amounts over 1.5 mg/m3.

during an eight-hour workday and a five-day workweek.

Furthermore, with an excursion limit (EL) of 1.0 asbestos fibres per cubic centimetre for a 30-minute period, the permissible exposure limit for asbestos is 0.1 fibres per cubic centimetre of air as an eight-hour time-weighted average (TWA). No one must be exposed to these levels, according to the employer’s rules.

Guidelines on the interpretation of Workplace Exposure Standards for Airborne Contaminants should always be consulted before applying any norm.

Managing Respirable Dust in the Workplace

The WHO has established criteria to help in managing the issue and lowering its following health repercussions since the health concerns are just too serious. Safe Work Australia shares guidelines in Australia to help businesses manage respirable dust in the workplace.

The following actions can be helpful:

1) Recognise the Problem 

The first stage is to do a preliminary evaluation to ascertain the following:

  1. Dust type.
  2. Dust components.
  3. Particle concentration in a certain area.
  4. Reason for the spread

This walk-through will present key details that managers in the workplace may use to create customised control systems and safety protocols for their employees.

2) Strategy to Control Exposure 

Maintaining occupational health and safety for prevention is always preferable to dealing with an issue that has already arisen. The following actions can be taken using the data collected from the initial sampling:

1) Source Elimination 

To reduce contamination or exposure, if it is possible to skip or alter a stage in the workflow, organisations should eliminate risks at the source itself.

2) Containment and Ventilation

If the first method cannot be used, the material can be contained in an enclosed area, and/or extra ventilation can be added to the area to restrict the spread of dust.

3) Work Practices

To reduce or eliminate direct exposure, several procedures may need to be modified before, during, and after exposure to the pollutants.

Workers must be outfitted with full safety gear depending on the type of work and the amount of exposure. Workers are frequently tempted to take off protective equipment because it is so constrictive and unpleasant. In order to stop this from happening, education and training must be provided so that people comprehend the purpose of everything.

4) Air Monitoring

Air or dust monitoring including personal air monitoring shall be performed to check if the factory environment has respirable dust content below the occupational exposure limit. Air sampling shall be done appropriately. It is advised to take the help of experienced occupational hygienists to perform air monitoring.

5) Continuous Health Monitoring

Pneumoconiosis and other illnesses brought on by breathing in respirable dust take years or even decades to manifest their signs and symptoms. In order to determine whether there are health issues as a result of exposure, routine health examinations like X-rays or CT scans must be performed.

Anitech’s experienced occupational hygienists can offer your organisation guidance on analysing the various respirable dust at your workplace. They will perform air monitoring and provide solutions to keep the amount of respirable dust below the exposure limits.

Furthermore, our experienced professionals will also help you in creating a strategy to overcome the risks of exposure and suggest control measures to protect workers from exposure.

Call us today at 1300 802 163 or email us at sales@anitechgroup.com


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