Dust in the Workplace

By Freddie Eyre
19 Jun 2024

Dust is inevitable in certain jobs, but putting in measures in place for controlling dust can help reduce the long-term negative effects it can have on our employees.

In this article, we are going to cover the dangers of dust and how employers can help prevent or avoid dust all together in their workplace. 

If you need immediate support in tackling dust in the workplace, get in touch with one of our health and safety  experts here.

What should employers know about dust in the workplace?

Dust in the workplace can be incredibly harmful, especially if it's left unchecked. Fine dust particles can be in various different sizes, meaning that not all dust particles can be seen by the naked eye.

You can separate smaller dust particles up into two groups.

  • Inhalable dust: This is dust that can cause an individual to have respiratory issues.
  • Respirable dust: This is invisible dust that is easy to breathe in large amounts. If your employees are exposed to a large quantity of this type of dust it can cause lung diseases.

Prolonged exposure to dust can cause an individual to have a variety of issues, such as:

  • Asthma.
  • Lung disease (silicosis, asbestosis and talcosis).
  • Fibrosing Alveolitis.
  • Heart disease.
  • Extrinsic allergic alveolitis (EAA).
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

What causes dust in the workplace?

Some workplaces are more likely to produce dust or have dust occur as a result of a process. Five of the most dangerous types of dust are.


Sawdust is produced at each stage of the woodworking process. This could include sawing, sanding, drilling, and any process that includes manipulating or processing wood.

During many of these processes and cleaning processes, dust from wood can become airborne, putting your workforce at risk of breathing in the sawdust.

The dangers aren't limited to just breathing the dust in, sawdust can irritate eyes, nose and the throat, rhinitis, and dermatitis. It can also cause more serious respiratory system effects.

If your employees have a prolonged sawdust exposure can lead to occupational asthma, reduced lung capacity and cause allergic reactions.

a woodworker with visible dust around them that is a health hazards

Asbestos dust

Asbestos dust is created by naturally occurring materials that can be extremely hazardous to health, as it is built up of flexible heat resistant fibre. Asbestos can be split up into three different types:

  • Brown asbestos or Amosite.
  • Blue asbestos or Crocidolite (typically used in insulating railways and train carriages, and in ship building. This type of asbestos fluffs up when it's heated and will help block a fire).
  • White asbestos or chrysotile.

If asbestos fibers are inhaled they can settle in a person's lungs and cause cancer and asbestosis.

Substances hazardous to health like asbestos is a dangerous dust being put in a bag to be exposed of safely.

Metalliferous dust

Metalliferous dust is produced by mining tin, copper, gold, nickel, zinc, silver, and iron ore, when it's both underground and above ground. Typically, the dust is produced when workers start extracting, drilling, hauling, processing the minerals, drilling and crushing.

Some minerals such as uranium, silver and nickel contain toxic dust that can have a serious impact on an individual's respiratory system. Not limited to this, these toxic dusts can be absorbed into the bloodstream and poison the body. 

Many toxic elements are released throughout the mining process, in particular when the minerals are mixed, such as copper and zinc.hazardous dust being produced by drilling metal that is hazardous to a workers health.

Coal dust

When miners are mining for coal they generate dust, both underground and aboveground. It's not just coal miners who are exposed to coal dust, workers who are transporting, adding stockpile coal are also exposed to coal dust.

Coal comes with its own set of hazards and risks, such as pneumoconiosis disease (also known as black lung) which affects the breathing of an individual.

coal chunks in a pile.

Silica dust

Crystalline silica dust is predominantly produced whilst working with materials containing silica, such as concrete. This is produced from the methods and processes that are followed, such as blasting, crushing, sieving, drilling and transporting the material.

Silica dust is the main component in sand, but it isn't just the individuals who work in the above industries who are exposed to silica dust. Those who are stone cutters, sandblasters, and glass cutters may also be exposed to silica dust.

Prolonged exposure can lead to lung disease (silicosis) and cause difficulty breathing. it can also cause an increased risk of

two lungs, one showing healthy set and another that has silicosis causing breathing problems and breathing difficulties if inhaled.

Who is most at risk?

Those who are most at risk of being exposed to dust are:

  • Quarry workers.
  • Stone cutters.
  • Miners.
  • Glass makers.
  • Wood workers.
  • Construction workers.
  • Bakers or Caterers.

Although anyone who comes into contact with a process that produces dust is at risk of being exposed to dust hazards. For example, firefighters are at risk of inhaling asbestos dust when attending a scene, or bakers when they are working with flour on a regular basis.

workers exposed to flour dust which could lead to health problems if control measures aren't put in place.

How can I control dust in the workplace?

There are a few methods that you can utilise to help control dust in your workplace. These can both help your employees and site visitors safe from dust exposure.

See if the task can be modified to reduce or avoid dust

Have a look at the process your employees are currently using, could this be adapted to reduce the amount of dust produced. For example, if you work in construction, you could use a nail gun instead of screws to reduce the amount of dust that's produced.

Avoid disturbing dust

You can avoid the amount of airborne dust by not disturbing it while it's on the floor or on surfaces. Especially if there is an excessive amount of dust on the floor and employees are constantly walking through it.

Thinking about the cleaning procedure, do you have cleaners that come in regularly to avoid the build up of dust? Or is there a process your employees are supposed to follow to avoid the build up?

Wear personal protective equipment (PPE)

You should ensure that your employees are protected from dust, this includes providing them with effective personal protective equipment.

Masks, respiratory protective equipment (RPE), goggles, ear defenders and gloves can help reduce dust exposure and inhalation in dusty environments.

Train staff on the dangers around dust

You should ensure that your teams are aware of the dangers around dust, and how long-term exposure could damage their health. Providing up to date and regular training can help your staff become better equipped to handle dust.

Implement adequate control measures to prevent dust inhaled

There are a few measures that you can put into place to help protect your employees, such as, installing dust removal tools like vacuums and local exhaust ventilation systems.

If you are trying to reduce dust on a large scale you could use water sprinklers to suppress dust clouds, and finally, ensure that your employees are using the right tools for the job.

a worker cleaning the workplace to help with the health regulations of the workplace.

Implement effective ventilation

Effective ventilation will help bring fresh air into your workplace and remove dust and pollutants from the air within your building, making it safer for your employees. You should make sure you're regularly cleaning ventilation systems to ensure they are remaining pollutant free and effective.

Clean regularly

Ensuring workspaces are cleaned regularly can help you to avoid large amounts of dust build ups. This helps you keep on top of the dust management within your site and identify areas that could benefit from additional tools to reduce the dust.

a  ventilation system that has been put in as one of the safety measures to prevent exposure to large amounts of dust.

Get expert advice

At Croner, our Health and Safety experts are on hand 24/7 to help you handle your health and safety issues and concerns. Our experts understand the dangers around dust in the workplace and are ready to help you create a safe work environment for you and your employees.

Get in touch with one of our health and safety experts on 0800 470 2584.

About the Author

a photo of Freddie Eyre

Freddie is our Health and Safety Team Manager. Having worked in the industry for over six years, Freddie advises our clients in all things health and safety, and helps to ensure that they are compliant with the latest legislation.