Adequate protection from dust is vital for workers who may be exposed, but it’s important to have a broader dust management strategy in place. By Susanna Nelson
Dust is a risk to human health. How much of a risk, and the nature of the risk, will depend on the type of dust and the concentrations in the workspace. Airborne particles can cause cancer, silicosis and asbestosis, but even in small quantities, exposure to dust can result in allergies, asthma and reduced productivity. Dust also poses a risk to the body outside of respiratory issues—some fibres can be absorbed through the skin or eyes, and highly toxic types of dust carry a general code of practice for removal and a recommendation that workers are fully covered. The risk that dust poses in a work environment can be exacerbated by enclosed spaces, so ventilation or vacuuming can be part of the solution. Kärcher, a global provider of cleaning technology, is extending its product range to comply with new silica dust regulations as per market demands, introducing the NT Tact M& H Class Wet and Dry vacuum range and IVC Cyclone M Class industrial vacuums. “We also hear that sites are changing the way they work, so instead of the old traditional dust brooms or air blowers for sweeping that create a dust cloud to walk behind, push sweepers like the KM75/40 Bp keep all the dust inside the waste container,” says Bernard Keegan, national key account manager at Kärcher. “Wet cutting and grinding slurry is now being collected by wet and dry vacuums, instead of being left to dry and become an airborne risk,” says Keegan. “Our customers are asking for solutions for fine dust every week for grinding, cutting and drilling, and our main solution is the NT Tact vacuum range, with extraction hoods and fleece filter bags, which protect operators when they empty the vacuum.” “When someone is working in an enclosed space the concentration levels of the dust that they’re creating can become quite elevated,” says Brad Rodgers, product development manager at Paramount Safety Products. “This would definitely affect the risk to the person and could have a knock-on effect on the requirement for personal protective equipment (PPE).” “Dust safety should be seen as part of a broader dust management and avoidance strategy,” says Rodgers. “I think any workplace should probably refer to the hierarchy of control, and within that hierarchy of control, PPE is the last option. A range of priorities would come first, including to eliminate and control the risk—and then if its deemed to be unavoidable to be around the actual risk, PPE comes into play.”
MANAGING THE RISK
To set up a good risk mitigation strategy, it’s worth employing the services of an occupational hygienist who can come in and assess the risk that you’re facing. “They would do an air quality survey and give you a reading of what you’re dealing with, what the concentration levels are and what the recommended PPE requirements are to overcome that risk,” says Rodgers. A thorough assessment is always required before you think about looking at products. So many variables can affect your requirements. “At a certain level, workplace dust might only require a P2 mask,” says Rodgers. “But if you increase the level of concentration in the air, that same dust might require a much higher level of protection, because of the potential for it to clog the filter, because of perhaps the amount of oxygen in the environment, or it could be the kind of work you’re doing—it could be really labour intensive. There really are a lot of factors at play.” Once you’re aware of the dust risk at your work premises, you can determine the right PPE products for your work environment. “You might only need something that’s disposable, which is very cost-effective,” says Rodgers. “Or you might go for something reusable that gives you a slightly higher level of protection, right up to products that might not actually have you breathing your own air—the hazard might be that great that you need to bring in your own supply of air through what’s known as an air supplied respirator.” An air supply is needed where there’s not enough oxygen in the environment, or because the risk is so great that if breakthrough happens or the product fails, there is risk to life. For this scenario you need a very high level of protection.
It’s important to research reputable manufacturers to ensure that the safety items you use are certified to Australian standards. “Product certification is very important,” says Rodgers. “Certification ensures that the manufacturer’s stated level of protection is achieved every time they make that product. This is done independently by a third party—they check off things like raw materials, procurement and production processes. For the consumer, this means peace of mind that they’re getting the stated level of protection.” Another thing to consider when you’re looking at PPE for dust is correct fit, which is critical for respiratory products. The Australian standards state that employers must ensure that people using respirators on site are fit tested before they use the product, to ensure a mask is sealed correctly on the face. “Everyone’s face is a different shape—you might need to choose a different product to ensure it fits correctly,” says Rodgers. “Qualitative and quantitative fit tests can ensure that the user is going to be protected with the mask they’re using.”