The recent paper ‘Low-Toxicity Dusts: Current exposure guidelines are not sufficiently protective’ by John W. Cherrie, Lisa M. Brosseau, Alastair Hay and Kenneth Donaldson highlights the reasons for Unite’s campaign to improve current standards.
The paper outlines that exposure to low-toxicity dusts, which have previously been viewed as ‘nuisance dusts’, can cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or other non-malignant respiratory disease. In Britain, the ‘de facto’ airborne exposure limits for these dusts have remained unchanged for 30 years; currently, they are 10mg m−3 for inhalable dust and 4mg m−3 for respirable dust.
During this time, exposures in industry have decreased and although in the past, many occupational dust exposures may have exceeded these limits, today this is less likely. However, there is good evidence from epidemiology and toxicology studies that current dust exposures may still present a risk to workers and that for some of those who are affected, there are devastating health consequences.
Numerous researchers and others have drawn attention to the necessity to control dust exposures to levels lower than are currently accepted in Britain. It is proposed that until regulators agree on the safe occupational exposure limits for low-toxicity dusts, health and safety professionals should consider 1mg m−3 of respirable dusts as a more appropriate guideline than the value of 4mg m−3 currently used in Britain. Click here to read the full paper.
The HSE has also updated its guidance EH44 Dust in the workplace (Fourth edition). This was previously withdrawn, but after lobbying from Unite was updated and republished. Click here to read the full guidance.
More information on Dust in the workplace: CIS 36: Construction Dust. This document highlights the main risks and the control strategies to use for various common tasks.
CIS 69: Controlling construction dust with on-tool extraction: This contains details on selecting, using and maintaining on-tool extraction.
The revised HSG 53 is also now live. HSG 53: Respiratory Protective Equipment at Work.