Dust Detection in the Workplace

In petrochemical, pharmaceutical, mining and some manufacturing environments, there is are added risks of dust explosions. In this article, Tim Turney of Casella looks at some of the wider ramifications of exposure to dust at work and the role of personal dust sampling pumps in safeguarding staff.


Health matters

There are a wide range of substances in the workplace that have the potential to cause harm to health if ingested, inhaled, or come in contact with skin. These can lead to irreversible respiratory diseases, asthma or eczema, amongst a long list of potential health problems. It is estimated, 2.2 million workers are currently exposed to harmful dust, including crystalline silica in the US. The standard for exposure to silica includes action level of 25 micrograms of silica per rubric metre of air, throughout an 8-hour day on average. The standard also highlights the permissible exposure limit of 50mg per cubic meter of air, over an average of 8 hours.


Accurate measurement 

Personal monitoring in the form of personal dust sampling pumps is the preferred method of measuring dust exposure levels in the workplace. This allows employers to remain compliant with government standards of safety by providing an accurate record of individual exposure levels.


Personal pumps are efficient, practical and adaptable, offering tailored features depending on individual requirements.  The pumps provide information on temperatures and dust levels, alerting employers about harmful levels of dustsin the atmosphere and potential explosion risk.  To ensure personal sampling pumps accurately measure inhalable dust levels, filters connected to the devices are worn near the breathing zone (mouth and nose) absorbing air and catching particles, mimicking the way a human breathes. When required, the particles collected are sent to a laboratory for further testing.


In some instances, this is replacing traditional methods whereby reports taken from an external occupational hygienist inspecting the workplace provided evidence of dust levels. 


Personal pumps offer an enhanced monitoring system able to provide continuous data records. Data can be collected throughout seasonal and weather changes - in the summer months there may be better ventilation, where windows might be open, as opposed to winter months where lower ventilation can make for a dustier environment.  Based on the findings, dust control measures can be modified. Workers may be required to wear additional respiratory protective equipment, or the location may need to be fitted with ventilation


When new processes are introduced, such as new machinery and ventilation equipment, the personal pumps enable tests to be made to ensure exposure limits are kept to a minimum. Ultimately, this allows workforces to become more engaged, providing staff with concrete information on how their health is being safeguarded in the workplace. 


Asbestos monitoring

The World Health Organisation estimates that 107,000 workers globally die every year from exposure to asbestos, with many succumbing to fatal respiratory diseases suchas mesothelioma. The use of asbestos is permitted in the US, unlike the UK which banned asbestos in 1999. However, due to ongoing use of asbestos in the US, a study found a staggering 39,275 people were killed in the US due to asbestos-related diseases in 2016. The permissible exposure limit (PEL) us 0.1 fibre per cubic centimetre, over an 8-hour period, the limit has been reduced 4 time since 1971, from 12. This is applicable to all industries including construction and shipyards.


Personal sampling pumps are increasingly being used to measure individual exposure alongside room monitors, giving a more accurate indication of specific risks workers are exposed to. Tests are required to ensure the air quality of the contaminated area is safe for individuals to remove the substance and to measure airborne exposures. 


With personal sampling pumps, workforces can continue with removal of asbestos knowing that their overall exposure is being carefully monitored. For this specific task, the pumps must be worn on the body as part of their protective clothing, which is then sprayed down after working in the contaminated area. When dealing with asbestos, a filter with grids is used which allows for the asbestos fibres to be counted by microscope in a laboratory. The sample is analysed after the shift has ended ensuring personal exposure is below the level allowed, providing an essential historical record.


The latest personal sampling pumps are both small and light, with Bluetooth connectivity giving the ability to access data collected remotely. They should also have a smooth surface for easy cleaning. Those being used in environments where there is a risk of explosion, such as the petrochemical, pharmaceutical or mining industries, will also need to be intrinsically safe and certified to various explosion protection standards, depending on where they are being used.


Take a look at our range of air sampling pumps here : https://www.casellasolutions.com/products/casella_us_en/by-product/air-sampling-media.html