Tiny Particles Can Cause Big Problems

What is Airborne Dust?

There are many different types of dust that can cause adverse health effects.

According to the “Glossary of Atmospheric Chemistry Terms” (IUPAC, 1990), “Dust: Small, dry, solid particles projected into the air by natural forces, such as wind, volcanic eruption, and by mechanical or man-made processes such as crushing, grinding, milling, drilling, demolition, shovelling, conveying, screening, bagging, and sweeping. Dust particles are usually in the size range from about 1 to 100 μm in diameter, and they settle slowly under the influence of gravity.”

Inhalable dust and respirable dust will be present in most workplaces – particularly in outdoor environments. Exposure to dust of respirable size presents a chronic health risk and can lead to a range of lung diseases.

When measuring hazardous dust, a particle’s geometric size does not precisely determine behaviour. The most appropriate form of measurement is in ‘particle aerodynamic diameter’, as “… it relates closely to the ability of the particle to penetrate and deposit at different sites of the respiratory tract, as well as to particle transport in aerosol sampling and filtration devices” (World Health Organisation).

This is important as hazardous dust reacts in different ways. Hazardous ability can relate to the length of time the dust is airborne, to environmental conditions impacting on the site environment (enclosed spaces, humidity etc.)

The range of dust commonly found on work sites are varied:

  • Mineral dust such as cement dust, and Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) are ubiquitous across the globe. RCS is one of the most common minerals (crystalline/quartz) found on the planet. It is classed by IARC as Group 1 Carcinogenic to humans, as exposure to excessive Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) can lead to silicosis (progressive scarring/fibrosis of the lung)
  • Coal dust is another form of mineral dust and is generally more of an issue in underground coal mines due to the way they operate in a more restricted space. Exposure to excessive concentrations over a prolonged period of time may lead to occupational illnesses such as Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis (CWP), or “black lung”. CWP can develop to Progressive Massive Fibrosis (PMF)
  • Metallic dust such as lead, nickel, cadmium, and beryllium dust
  • Biohazards such as moulds and spores
  • Organic and vegetable dust flour, wood, cotton, pollen, and tea dust
  • Other chemical dust including bulk chemicals and pesticides

Implementing Australian standards for sampling airborne and gravimetric determination of inhalable and respirable dust, as well as enacting protective equipment and education practices, allows for greater protection against dust hazards. We work with you to ensure these are addressed and enacted.

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