Dust and Fumes

Dust Exposure, many work activities such as cutting, drilling, demolition, milling and grinding can create dust. Tiny particles in the air can be inhaled, ingested or cause irritation when they come into contact with the skin or eyes. Exposure to dust is a risk that must be carefully assessed in various occupations. Following the hierarchy of risk control means looking for ways to prevent dust exposure as the first step. Use the equipment which collects dust at source and extracts it outside the workplace, or which collects the dust. Avoid sweeping dust and use an appropriately graded vacuum cleaner.

The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) should be a last resort control. If there is no alternative, ensure workers are trained in how to use and wear the correct PPE for the task and they understand why they need to wear it.

While arriving on a site just earlier this month I saw a young worker of 20 years of age cutting kerbs with a partner saw abrasive wheel. He was not using water suppression, neither was he wearing a dust mask to prevent the inhalation of dust particles. This same worker was being supervised by his foreman. From this lack of control, it is not surprising that there were over 12,000 occupational lung disease related deaths in the UK during 2016 – 2017 with over 18,000 new cases of occupational respiratory ill-health each year.

It’s a frightening statistic, yet both workers and employers do not take the risk seriously enough. Similar to asbestos related lung cancer and mesothelioma, lung disease from inhalation of chemicals and dust are latent and are often not diagnosed until it is too late, leaving people with a terminal illness or a debilitating condition such as asthma.

Most companies using chemicals will undertake CoSHH assessments, however dust and fumes can often be overlooked in this process. Exposure to welding fumes, paint fumes or diesel engine exhaust fumes can cause occupational asthma and other lung diseases, like dusts, employers should ensure suitable control measures are in place.
SAFEHANDS have worked with several companies over the past year who have received enforcement notices, and fixed fees for intervention (FFIs) from the HSE for not controlling the risk of welding fume to employees. Some types of metals, shield gases and filler rods contain extremely hazardous chemicals that target the respiratory system resulting in both short and long-term effects including cancer, pneumonia and asthma.

The dangers of breathing in fume and the respiratory health effects it may cause when inhaled are not as widely known as they should be, although there were an estimated 150 deaths from work related cancer caused by welding fume. A further 50 were hospitalised from pneumonia, brought on by welding fume. Do not be fooled by the lack of visible fume.
As a thought, whether in the construction industry, steel fabrication, painting, food process or cleaning each of you will know someone. or worked with someone who is going to die from work related lung disease when it could have been avoided.

Employers have a duty of care which includes inhalation of hazardous substances and employees should care for themselves and workmates and should not be afraid to speak up to help save someone’s life. If you have any worries or concerns, you have a valuable asset in SAFEHANDS just pick up the phone and ask for our help.


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