Dust can often be overlooked when assessing the work environment for potential hazards. Unless it is a large and obvious plume towering above, dust hazards can be pushed aside while attention is directed towards more obvious or sexy hazards, like potential hydrogen sulfide outbreaks or working inside confined spaces.
The hazards associated with dust are just as serious as others found in the workplace. Both acute and chronic effects can be endured due to exposure. The more challenging aspect prevails in the fact that dust can present itself in varying mediums like pollen, sawdust, and silica found in hydraulic fracturing proppants.
Dust is composed of particles that vary in size. They can be large and small. Since the larger particles retreat or fall to the ground more quickly, they avoid being breathed in by individuals being exposed. The smaller particles, however, can remain in the air for a longer period of time, allowing for a greater potential to harm anyone exposed. This small-particle dust is represented by two different groups: inhalable dust and respirable dust.
Inhalable dust is less than 100 micrometers in size but is still visible. It can wreak havoc on the exposed individual’s upper respiratory system, which includes the nose, mouth, and throat.
Respirable dust is so tiny it cannot be seen under new conditions of illumination. Unfortunately, due to their small size, respirable dust particles can be breathed in, become embedded in the lungs, and cause lung damage.
Entry and Effects
The most common entry method of dust into the human body is through inhalation. Repetitive exposure can damage the lungs and even lead to tissue damage. As a result, breathing difficulty is typically a major health impairment. Contaminated dust can have an ill effect causing skin irritation if contact is made. The chemical and physical particles of the sand can cause them to be irritants if they find their way into the eyes. Ingestion is another potential route of exposure. Dust that contaminates food and water can find entry while being consumed.
Depending on the type of dust inhaled, symptoms can be serious and life-threatening, while some can just be a nuisance. Some dusts are irritants and sensitizers. Exposure can result in occupational asthma, coughing and wheezing. Others can experience a runny or itchy nose. Symptoms can grow in severity with people experiencing coughing, fever, weight loss, and breathlessness.
Longtime exposure can lead to:
The most effective prevention method when working in dusty environments is to call off work and eliminate the source. This rarely surfaces as the big winner of options. Unfortunately, dust is a part of industry, and most will be exposed to it in some size and form.
The winning act of combatry will always be eliminated. Eliminating the dust completely ensures ideal prevention statistics. Unfortunately, that is not always a viable option. We cannot eliminate the dust produced when sandblasting. Hydraulic fracturing cannot take place without the silica-coated proppant needed for downhole runs.
Instead, we have to maintain respect for its potential dangers and work with it. Respirators provide an acceptable tool in combating dust exposure. Truckers offloading that fracturing proppant don respirators while the process takes place. Sandblasters not only suit up in disposable Tyvek suits, but they don respirators as well.
Proactive behavior associated with dust exposure consists of knowledge and responsibility. The workforce must be properly trained and educated to recognize the need for respirators, and they must be properly trained to care for and wear them. Gloves and protective clothing can also provide assistance in preventing exposure.
Companies are mandated by governing agencies to provide a safe workplace with the equipment needed to accomplish this feat. The employees must take the responsibility to properly care for safety equipment and use it when needed. Failure to put it into service only increases the chances of succumbing to injury.
Nick Vaccaro is a freelance writer and photographer. Besides providing technical writing services, he is an HSE consultant in the oil and gas industry with nine years of experience. He also contributes to Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and Masonry Magazine. Nick has a BA in Photojournalism from Loyola University and resides in the New Orleans area. 210-240-7188 [email protected]