Industrial dust monitoring is usually undertaken by companies where workers are exposed to dust due to the nature of the business or from an external source. The primary purpose of monitoring particulate matter or dust in workplaces is to verify the levels of dust exposure on the job sites and determine if the contaminants in the air are safe.
Monitoring dust in workplaces is particularly important for businesses where workers and laborers are exposed to coal dust, respirable dust, silica, or quartz for long hours. Monitoring air in such kinds of workplaces ensures that the exposure of operatives to harmful substances in the job site air is not at levels above the legal limits.
Why workplace dust monitoring is essential?
The fact is no level of dust in the air is proven to be good for health or the environment. But, yes, the seriousness of the impact on health and the environment depends on the size of the dust particle. Dust contains tiny particles known as PM10 that can make their way to the lungs and throat, causing serious health hazards.
Prolonged exposure to PM10 particles can be more dangerous for people having pre-existing medical conditions in relation to the heart and respiratory system. Dust particles can also be hazardous to plants and animals. It can cause potential breathing problems for some animals.
That’s why projects or workplaces that create dust and leave adverse impacts on health and the environment need a robust monitoring program. Assessing the presence of particulate matter or dust with quality equipment helps in collecting evidence of dust impacts and measuring the effectiveness of mitigation measures.
How often should dust exposure assessments be done?
Well, the frequency of industrial dust monitoring completely depends on the nature of the chemicals present in the workplace and the associated risks. While volatile substances and compounds present in the air in large quantities necessarily need an exposure assessment once a year, inert substances and general dust may require monitoring every two years.
The results of the previous survey also play an important role. If the previous survey reports good control of dust exposure, monitoring can be less frequent. In the same way, if the last survey reports the presence of the risk of exposure or the risk of severe health impacts, dust exposure assessments need to be done more frequently.
Another instance where companies require to perform dust exposure surveys is when there’s a change in process or substances handled within a workplace. Companies should make it the best practice to repeat the assessment after a failure, change, or renewal of control measures within their workplaces.
What are the ways to monitor dust in workplaces?
Here are some of the top methods for measuring the levels of dust in workplace air:
- Air Sampling Pumps: It is one of the most trusted methods for sampling dust particles, fumes, and mists. These sampling pumps actually determine the kinds of particulates present in the work environment. They are usually used to sample health-based and regulatory requirements so that a worker’s exposure to a particular substance or chemical can be determined.
- Optical Particle Counter (OPC): It is one of the most versatile methods for monitoring dust and particulate matter present in workplace air. It is a portable and wearable instrument, featuring light-scattering technology to collect real-time data related to dust in a work environment. Industries like Mining, Electronics, Oil & Gas, Healthcare, or any other job sites that are concerned with indoor air quality use OPCs.
- Condensation Particle Counter (CPC): Just like OPCs, Condensation Particle Counters use lasers to count dust particles. However, the difference between OPCs and CPCs is that CPCs detect ultrafine dust particles measuring 0.015 to 1.0µm. Industries that use CPCs include Pharmaceutical plants, Manufacturing facilities, Filter testing, Combustion analysis, Particle research, etc.
- Photometer/Nephelometer: It is used to measure larger dust particles through a light source and detector. Unlike the above-mentioned dust monitoring methods, photometers or nephelometers look at the size, shape, density, and reflectivity of particles to determine the exact quantity of dust particles present in workplace air. Industries that use photometers include Mining, Construction, and Manufacturing.
Although these are the most useful instruments for detecting and measuring dust in workplaces, getting hands with them requires professional training and knowledge. A better and hassle-free way to measure dust in the work environment is by hiring expert services.
Workplace dust monitoring is important for two main reasons – to maintain regulatory compliance and to enable air quality management. Dust particles present in workplace air can cause irritation to the eyes, headaches, fatigue, coughing, and sneezing if not monitored effectively. They may even create long-term deleterious effects, leading to serious illnesses in both the employer and the employee. Thus, it is necessary to conduct dust exposure assessments on industrial job sites to ensure that staff and visitors are not exposed to poor air quality in the workplace.