Health risks associated with dust in the workplace

Globalisation and technological advancements bring new health concerns year after year for workers in industries such as agriculture, food processing, lumber and wood production, mining, construction and textile. The International World Health Organisation (WHO) argues that due to industrialisation and globalisation which has led to increased production, dust exposure is more prevalent.

 

Though dust is an inevitable by-product of these industries, extraction and ventilation are among the preferred methods to minimise dust exposure. Jacob, a world leader in pipework systems, offers complete and efficient solutions through extraction that improve the working environment to a point where dust masks are often unnecessary

According to the WHO, even short periods of exposure to dust can lead to asthma, allergic alveolitis and irritation as prepared in the document on Hazard Prevention and Control in the Work Environment: Airborne Dust (1999). “Whenever people inhale airborne dust at work, they are at risk of occupational disease. Both in developed and developing countries, overexposure to dust causes disease, temporary and permanent disabilities and deaths. Dust in the workplace may also contaminate or reduce the quality of products, be the cause of fire and explosion, and damage the environment.” 2

Organic Dust Toxicity Syndrome (ODTS) also known as grain fever, is of special concern to those working in the agricultural and food industry. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ODTS typically occurs where large amounts of organic dust are present in the air. “The syndrome often occurs in small clusters and affects most individuals who are exposed to heavy concentrations of organic dust contaminated with microorganisms.” 3 It’s often associated with employees working in grain silos, grain mills and farmers.
Patients who suffer from ODTS may show symptoms of the following:

  • fever occurring four to 12 hours after exposure and flu-like symptoms such as general
  • weakness,
  • headache,
  • chills,
  • body aches,
  • and coughing. 

Symptoms usually subside after a few days, but re-exposure to contaminated dust should be limited.

Given the risks and long-term effects associated with dust exposure, it has become increasingly important for Southern African industries to provide sufficient extraction methods in order to reduce the risk of prolonged dust exposure and ensure the health of their employees. According to Jacob sales manager Jan Jordaan, every process is different and requires a custom designed solution by pinpointing the biggest problem areas first. “In many projects, the dust aspiration processes were far more cost efficient than what the client had initially anticipated and the working environment improved dramatically for workers. In some processes, the installation of a dust aspiration system can even pay for itself by recovering high value dust that would have previously polluted the environment. Furthermore, Jacob’s unique Quick-Connect Pull rings make maintenance and cleaning much more efficient when compared to bolt-on flanges for a safe and healthy working environment.
In many projects, the dust aspiration processes were far more cost efficient than what the client had initially anticipated and the working environment improved dramatically for workers - Jan Jordaan

Backed with a design and installation team in South Africa, Jacob is able to provide a turnkey project for a client in South Africa, Southern and East Africa. Contact Jan Jordaan at 056 212 2697 for a free consultation.

In our next article, we’ll discuss the importance of extraction and preventing dust explosions. 

Resources: 1. http://www.who.int/occupational_health/publications/en/oehairbornedust3.pdf 2. http://www.who.int/occupational_health/publications/airdust/en/ 3. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/94-102/pdfs/94-102.pdf

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