08 Gezondheids- en werkplekaspecten
 >  Dust

In this toolbox we devote attention to safety relating to dust. Dust is a collective name for all kinds of particles that are easily carried in an airstream. Air pollutants are roughly divided into particles and gaseous substances. Dust particles are further subdivided into different categories on the basis of particle size and composition:

  • Coarse particles (PM10)
  • Fine particles (PM2.5)
  • Ultrafine particles (PM0.1)
  • Soot (DME)

There is dust at any construction site and every construction activity generates dust.

The term ‘dust in the air’ refers to the collection of all particles in the air. One of the most often used terms is particulate matter, often referred to as PM10 particulate matter. PM stands for Particulate Matter. The ‘10’ indicates the maximum size of the particles in micrometres that belong to the PM10 category.

Particulate matter (PM10) comprises a large number of substances. Particles that are formed in the air from sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides and ammonia are the most common. A second important contributing factor are elemental carbon and organic carbon compounds.

Types of particulate matter

  • PM10: aerodynamic diameter smaller than 10 micrometres
  • PM2.5: aerodynamic diameter smaller than 2.5 micrometres
  • PM0.1: aerodynamic diameter smaller than 0.1 micrometre (ultrafine dust)

Dust therefore consists of different size particles. The size of these particles determines where they go after being inhaled. The largest particles are caught in the upper respiratory tract, including the nose, mouth, and throat, but the smallest particles can penetrate the alveoli in the lower respiratory tract.

Inhalable and respirable

Dust that is inhaled through the nose or the mouth is referred to as inhalable dust. Dust that subsequently is able to penetrate the alveoli in the lower respiratory tract is known as respirable dust.

The legal 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) exposure limits for dust are: 10 mg/m³ for inhalable dust and 5 mg/m3 for respirable dust. These limits continue to be in general use. However, a number of specialists is seriously challenging these exposure limits. They are recommending an exposure limit of 1 mg/m3 for respirable dust and 5 mg/m³ for inhalable dust.

Ultrafine dust

Ultrafine dust is a designation for particles in the air with a diameter smaller than 100 nanometres or 0.1 micrometre. Exposure to ultrafine dust potentially entails larger health risks than exposure to respirable and inhalable dust. This is because ultrafine dust is so small that the body is not able to eliminate these particles as easily as larger particles. As a result, it stays longer in the lungs after inhaling. Moreover, because of their small size the particles more easily end up in the blood via the lungs and thus reach other organs.

In the Netherlands there are as YET no public/legal exposure limits for particulate matter.

Risks > What can happen?

Exposure to dust can result in:

  1. Death or a shortened lifespan.
  2. Cardiovascular diseases, vascular constriction, elevated blood coagulation and increased heart rate.
  3. Lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), reduced pulmonary function, cause and/or worsen asthma (especially in children), increase in respiratory complaints, such as wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath.

By inhaling it, particulate matter ends up in the nose, the upper and lower respiratory tract and in the lungs. The smaller the diameter of the particulate matter, the deeper it will penetrate into the lungs. PM10 particulate matter when inhaled can penetrate into the upper respiratory tract, PM2.5 particulate matter into the lower respiratory tract and ultrafine particulate matter can penetrate into the alveoli where it can directly be absorbed into the blood.

Measures > What you must do

You can at least do the following:

  • The first step is to prevent the creation of dust in the first place.
  • Take measures to control the transfer from source to people (for example: binding substances, modifying methods of working).
  • Take measures at source (for example: enclosures, shielding and exhausting directly at source, keeping things wet).
  • Local ventilation systems.
  • Organizational measures (work in separate area, adjust working hours).
  • Personal Protective Equipment (P1, P2 of P3 depending on the type of dust). For more information, check out the Respiratory Protection toolbox.
Discussion > Discuss this with your colleagues!

Discuss the following topics with each other:

  1. How do you deal with dust in your working environment?
  2. Are sufficient mitigating measures being implemented?

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