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25 April 2017
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DEALING WITH DUST IN THE WORKPLACE

Dust can cause problems for facilities managers – some of which are less obvious than others. James Miller at Dustcontrol UK explains what FMs can do to deal with these issues and how to put preventive measures in place.


James Miller is general manager UK at Dustcontrol AB
James Miller is general manager at Dustcontrol UK


13 March 2017 | James Miller 


One of the key concerns for a facilities manager in this area is dust migration. Workers carrying out essential maintenance on site often have to carry out this work while the rest of the facility is still in use.


This is also the case for FMs who need to ensure the cleanliness of production areas. Dust in this situation often presents a persistent problem – not just during maintenance. FMs in this case need to be far more aware of hazards posed by dust.


This is also the case for FMs who need to ensure the cleanliness of production areas. Dust in this situation often presents a persistent problem – not just during maintenance. FMs in this case need to be far more aware of hazards posed by dust.


Pitfalls

Primarily, it comes down to two elements – mess and health issues. The first element is easy for FMs to appreciate.

 

Dust migration – where continuous production methods or construction and repair techniques such as drilling, surface grinding, concrete cutting and floor sanding creates fine dust – is a visible side effect that an FM will look at and recognise it needs addressing. Dirt and debris spreading elsewhere in the building could be disruptive and make the facility look in poor condition.


Certain fine dusts can be hazardous to health. Prolonged exposure to a build-up of dust can cause everything from asthma to bronchitis to lung cancer. This is supported by research conducted on behalf of the World Health Organisation (WHO), which ranks illnesses resulting from overexposure to dust among the UK’s biggest hazards, and major killers in terms of occupational health.


But the biggest cause of dust-related illnesses is down to the presence of silica. This is found in many widely used building materials, such as asphalt, brick, cement, concrete, drywall, grout, mortar, stone, sand and tile.


The danger of silica is a view supported by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which estimates that there are 500 silica-related deaths in the UK a year. The risks posed by silica are not just limited to specific job roles or niche on-site activities; even tasks such as dry sweeping and disposing of cement bags can send silica particles into the air.

Other dusts, such as flour in baking facilities can cause problems such as occupational asthma.


Taking precautions

In a work environment where essential cleaning and maintenance, or even site development work is being carried out over a prolonged period, it is important to take the necessary steps to protect people from this risk.


The most effective way to manage risks posed by excessive dust is to be proactive when it comes to extraction. FMs may look to install a central vacuum cleaning system that allows for widespread extraction coverage throughout the facility. 


On-tool extraction should be considered first, as this will stem the likelihood of migration and settlement. It also limits the chance of dust particles escaping into the local atmosphere. This can be achieved with a centralised system, typically on a constant process or a mobile dust extractor, for things like maintenance and repairs.


A class system is used to define mobile extraction units. For silica dust particles, the HSE recommends the use of a Medium (M) class or High (H) class. The H class units offer the highest degree of filtration – with a filter leakage of less than 0.005 per cent – making it the most efficient option when it comes to targeting respirable dusts with carcinogenic properties. These machines are also less likely, owing to their higher specification of containment, to suffer major accidental dust leakage, which, to an FM is important in workplaces where maintenance is carried out while the facility is still in use.


Because of the high specifications of an H-class unit, it’s even possible to use them to clean areas that contain hazardous dusts, before then using them in repair processes as on-tool extractors. FMs, therefore, get double the benefit.


Air cleaners that extract fine particles from the surrounding air and return clean air back to the same environment are also available. These machines can also be used to create negative or positive pressure environments, which can help to keep dust from spreading outside the immediate working zone.


Not only is containment vital from a health perspective, it also stops dust layering surfaces elsewhere in the facility, removing the need for more widespread cleaning.  


More information:

Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) workplace fume and dust extraction

World Health Organisation - Occupational Health


James Miller is general manager at Dustcontrol UK