Occupational dust exposure

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A video on cleaning dust from workers' clothing

Occupational dust exposure can occur in various settings, including agriculture, forestry, and mining. Dust hazards include those that arise from handling grain[1] and cotton,[2] as well as from mining coal.[3] Wood dust, commonly referred to as "sawdust", is another occupational dust hazard that can pose a risk to workers' health.[4]

Without proper safety precautions, dust exposure can lead to occupational lung diseases.

Occupational Dust[edit]

Dust particles are generated by the disturbance/agitation of rock/mineral, dry grain, timber, or fiber material. The particles generated can range in size from 1μm to 100μm, and can "become airborne depending on their origin, physical characteristics and ambient conditions."[5]

Occupational Dust Examples[edit]

Types of dust present in the occupational setting include:[5]

  • Rock/mineral dusts
  • Metallic dusts
  • Chemical dusts
  • Grain and produce dusts
  • Molds and spores

Occupations and Dust Hazards[edit]


During various mining procedures in which rock/minerals are broken up and collected for processing, mineral dusts are created and become airborne. Inhalation of these dusts can lead to various respiratory illnesses, depending on the dust type (e.g. coal, silica, etc.), size of the dust particulates, and exposure duration.


During the stages of wood processing, wood dust is generated. 'Wood dust' is "any wood particles arising from the processing or handling of woods."[6] Sawing, routing, sanding, among other activities, form wood dust, which can then become airborne during the process of dust removal from furniture, maintenance, or equipment cleanup.[7]


Dust generated from milling, handling and storage of grains or fibers can pose a threat to workers' health. During the milling process, solid agricultural grains (corn, barley, wheat, cotton etc.) may undergo crushing, grinding, or granulation.[8] This process generates agricultural dust. Improperly handling grains can also expose workers to grain dusts. Grain storage can also present hazards to workers. Storage structures can create dangerous conditions due to gases emitted from spoiled grains and chemical fumes. "Workers may be exposed to unhealthy levels of airborne contaminants, including molds, chemical fumigants (toxic chemicals), and gases associated with decaying and fermenting silage."[8]

Health, Safety, and Epidemiology[edit]

Exposure to occupational dusts poses many hazards to workers' health and safety. Large, airborne dust particles can obscure vision, limit mobility while on the ground, and interfere with proper machine/equipment functioning.

Characteristics of dust particles such as size and chemical qualities can determine the location and effects of the dust particles in the respiratory system.

Occupational Lung Diseases[edit]

Illnesses/Diseases that can develop due to exposure to dust in the workplace.[9][10]


Workplace facilities have in place safety protocol and regulations to ensure that exposure to dust/particulate matter is minimal to non-existent. Barring the elimination or substitution of the hazard, controls on the engineering and administrative levels act to protect workers from dust hazards. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is used by workers to prevent specific exposure to the hazard.[11]

To mitigate exposure to dust in the workplace, respirators, ventilators, and eye protection are measures often employed.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Health Hazards of Storing, Handling, and Shipping Grain". U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Retrieved 2016-11-15.
  2. ^ "Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Cotton Dust". U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Retrieved 2016-11-15.
  3. ^ "Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Respirable Coal Mine Dust". U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Retrieved 2016-11-15.
  4. ^ "Sawdust". Wikipedia. 2018-01-26.
  5. ^ a b "WHO | Hazard prevention and control in the work environment: Airborne dust (WHO, 1999)". WHO. Retrieved 2018-04-08.
  6. ^ "CDC - NIOSH 1988 OSHA PEL Project Documentation: List by Chemical Name: WOOD DUST". www.cdc.gov. Retrieved 2018-04-14.
  7. ^ Safety, Government of Canada, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and. "Wood Dust - Health Effects : OSH Answers". www.ccohs.ca. Retrieved 2018-04-14.
  8. ^ a b "Safety and Health Topics | Grain Handling | Occupational Safety and Health Administration". www.osha.gov. Retrieved 2018-04-18.
  9. ^ "CDC - NORMS - NIOSH". webappa.cdc.gov. Retrieved 2018-04-18.
  10. ^ "Occupational Lung Diseases" (PDF).
  11. ^ "CDC - Hierarchy of Controls - NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topic". www.cdc.gov. Retrieved 2018-04-19.