Health and Safety Consultants & Accreditation Experts


Dust In The Workplace

Dust can be more than just a nuisance; it can be a killer. According to the latest HSE statistics there are 12000 deaths a year linked to occupational lung diseases and a further 17000 new cases of lung or breathing problems caused or made worse by work. This guidance is intended to outline the problems that can be caused by dust and give advice on what employers must do to protect their workers.

What is dust ?

Dust is simply small particles in the air. Often the particles are too small to be seen but they can be breathed in through the nose and mouth. For the purposes of health & safety, dusts are put into two groups.

  • Inhalable dust: These are larger sized particles that will be filtered out in the nose and mouth.
  • Respirable dust: These are small sized particles that can pass into the lungs and in to other organs.

Respirable dusts are seen as the most hazardous but the dangers from either one can not be ignored.

Dust can be created from many different work activities, some examples have been listed below.

  • Filling bags or emptying them into skips or other containers;
    weighing loose powders
  • Cutting, eg paving stones
  • Crushing and grading
  • Milling, grinding, sanding down or other similar operations
  • Cleaning and maintenance work
  • Clearing up spillages.

Dust not only effects the lungs through inhalation, but also the skin through contact leading to dermatitis, the eyes though contact or their chemical nature causing damage & irritation & through possible ingestion leading to digestive tract irritation or contamination of the bloodstream.

What does the law say

A dust will be classed as a substance hazardous to health if it meets one of the three items below:

  • Which is listed in Table 3.2 of part 3 of Annex VI of the CLP Regulation; and for which an indication of danger specified for the substance is very toxic, toxic, harmful, corrosive or irritant; or
  • If it is a substance to which a workplace exposure limit (WEL) applies. Find a copy of EH40 here
  • Any dust present in the workplace at a concentration in air equal to or greater than 10 mg/m3 of inhalable dust or 4 mg/m3 of respirable (as a time-weighted average over an 8-hour period).

Where the dust is classed as a substance hazardous to health the requirements of COSHH must be followed by:

  • Finding out what the health hazards are
  • Deciding how to prevent harm to health (Complete a COSHH risk assessment)
  • Providing control measures to reduce harm to health
  • Making sure they are used
  • Keeping all control measures in good working order
  • Providing information, instruction and training for employees and others
  • Providing monitoring and health surveillance in appropriate cases
  • planning for emergencies.