Understanding Inhalable Dust: Sources, Health Risks, and Prevention 

10/05/2024by admin0Read: 5 minutes

Inhalable dust comprises the airborne particles that individuals breathe in, posing significant health risks. In Australia and NSW, the focus on good air quality is due to the hazards of inhalable dust on human health and occupational safety.

Also called visible dust, its particle size is smaller than 100 micrometres (m). It can harm your upper respiratory system, including your nose, mouth, throat, or upper respiratory tract.

Hence, it is essential to apply strict measures to prevent exposure, mitigate workplace inhalable dust and apply necessary controls as per the standard and local regulations.

This blog will discuss sources of inhalable dust, associated health risks, and prevention measures in Australia and NSW.

Inhalable Dust

Inhalable dust is defined as tiny solid particles suspended in the air that are capable of being inhaled into the respiratory system.

Inhalable dust is also called visible dust and is smaller than 100 micrometres (μm), which is roughly the thickness of human hair. It can harm your upper respiratory system, including your nose, mouth, throat, or upper respiratory tract.

Composition of Inhalable Dust: 

Inhalable dust can consist of various substances, including but not limited to:

1) Mineral Dust: 

Mineral dust particles are generated from soil, rocks, and minerals. They may contain silica, asbestos fibers, coal dust, metal oxides (e.g., iron, aluminium), and other minerals.

2) Organic Dust: 

Organic dust particles originate from living or once-living materials. Examples include pollen, mould spores, plant fibers, and animal dander.

3) Combustion Products: 

Combustion processes, such as fossil fuel combustion in vehicles and power plants, release particulate matter into the air. These particles can contain soot, carbon black, and various toxic substances.

Sources of Inhalable Dust:

Inhalable dust can originate from various sources, both natural and human-made, and its composition can vary widely depending on the source and environment.

Several types of hardwood, the grinding of metals including lead-containing alloys, and earth-moving tasks performed during construction and restoration are examples of sources of inhalable dust.

1) Natural Sources: 

Natural sources of inhalable dust include soil erosion, pollen, volcanic ash, and dust storms. These particles are generated through natural processes such as weathering, wind erosion, and biological activities.

2) Human-Made Sources: 

Human activities contribute significantly to the generation of inhalable dust. Some common sources include industrial processes (e.g., mining, construction, manufacturing), vehicle emissions (e.g., exhaust fumes, tyre wear), agriculture (e.g., ploughing, harvesting), and household activities (e.g., sweeping, sanding).

3) Construction Sites: 

Activities such as drilling, excavation, cutting materials, and earthmoving produce inhalable dust.

4) Road Traffic: 

Vehicle emissions and pollutants from tyres disintegrate into particulate matter.

5) Mining: 

Drilling, blasting, and mineral processing generate airborne particles.

6) Agricultural Activities: 

Pesticide spraying, soil tillage, and harvesting release particulate matter into the air.

7) Industrial Processes: 

Manufacturing plants involved in the production of metals, chemicals or ceramics emit particulate matter.

Health Risks of Exposure to Inhalable Dust

Inhaling the inhalable dust can pose severe health risks to the workers exposed to it. Below given are the various harmful effects inhalable dust can have on the human body.

1) Respiratory System Issues: 

Prolonged exposure to high concentrations of inhalable dust can contribute to the development or exacerbation of respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

2) Respiratory Irritation: 

Inhalable dust can irritate the nose, throat, and airways, leading to symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, and throat discomfort.

3) Cardiovascular Diseases: 

Long-term exposure to fine particles may affect blood pressure regulation and impair immune functions leading to heart attacks or strokes.

4) Occupational Diseases like Lung Cancer: 

Workers in industries with high levels of inhalable dust, such as mining or construction, may face specific occupational health risks. Exposure to carcinogenic substances present in inhalable dust like silica dust can lead to lung cancer development over time.

5) Reduced Life Expectancy: 

Health conditions associated with poor air quality ultimately affect an individual’s life expectancy.

6) Allergic Reactions: 

Certain dust particles, such as pollen or animal dander, can trigger allergic reactions in susceptible individuals, causing symptoms like runny nose, watery eyes, and wheezing.

Workplace Exposure Standards & Queensland Mining Law

According to Queensland mining law, exposure levels to dust particles must not be exceeded by a business. Workplace exposure limits or standards are airborne concentrations of a certain chemical or substance in the breathing zone of the employees that should not have a negative impact on their health or give them excessive discomfort.

Exposure limitations do not draw a boundary between a good and bad workplace environment. Some persons may have negative health consequences below the exposure standard due to natural biological diversity and the spectrum of individual susceptibilities. Exposure limits, therefore, create a statutory or recommended upper limit.

When exposure cannot be completely avoided, every effort should be made to keep it as low as possible—well below the exposure limit.

The workplace exposure limit for dust in coal and mineral mines and quarries is 10.0

When work shifts are longer than eight hours or the workweek is longer than five days, exposure guidelines (8-hour time-weighted average) may need to be adjusted. This adjustment makes up for the longer work shift’s increased exposure as well as its shorter inter-shift rest period.

Organisations should seek help from an experienced occupational hygienist in cases where the exposure standard needs to be altered. The individual shall be well-versed in the toxicology and pharmacokinetics of the chemical.

AS 3640 Workplace Atmospheres – Method for Sampling and Gravimetric Determination of Inhalable Dust – Western Australia

Organisations who wish to sample the amount of inhalable dust in the air at a mine’s workplace should adhere to this guideline.

The procedure for collecting and gravimetrically determining inhalable dust in occupational environments is described in this standard. It does contain the non-vapour components of mists but does not take into account the measurement of “respirable” dust, which is described in AS 2985.

Preventive Measures for Inhalable Dust Exposure

Below are the preventive measures to curb or limit workers’ exposure to inhalable dust:

1) Implementing Regulations: 

Enforcing strict guidelines such as Workplace Exposure Standards (WES) to control permissible exposure levels in industrial settings.

2) Monitoring Air Quality: 

Continuous air quality monitoring devices help identify areas of high particle concentrations.

3) Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): 

Workers in dust-prone environments should use appropriate PPE, such as masks or respirators, to prevent inhalation of dust particles.

4) Engineering Controls: 

Implementing engineering controls like ventilation systems, dust collection systems, and enclosures can help reduce the generation and dispersion of dust in industrial settings.

5) Dust Suppression Techniques: 

Water sprays, dust suppressants, and proper storage and handling procedures can help minimise dust generation during activities like construction or mining. Dampening workplaces can reduce the spreading of dust in the air and therefore reduce exposure to it.

6) Proper Ventilation Systems: 

The installation of appropriate filters in workplaces reduces inhalable dust exposure significantly.

7) Regular Cleaning: 

Regular cleaning practices, including wet mopping and vacuuming with high-efficiency filters, can reduce dust accumulation in indoor environments.

8) Limit the Exposure Time of Workers

As per the regulation, organisations are obligated to have a daily workplace exposure time of 8 hours for workers while ensuring the dust is below the exposure limit.

9) Awareness Campaigns: 

Encouraging communities to stay informed about the risks of inhalable dust and adopt precautions to minimise exposure.

Anitech can help organisations analyse their workplaces for inhalable dust, help in reducing it below the exposure limit, and suggest preventive and control measures to safeguard workers.

Do call us now at 1300 802 163 or email us at sales@anitechgroup.com to avail service, and prevent or eliminate the risk of exposure to inhalable dust.

For more information on our services, stay tuned to the Anitech website.


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