Dangerous dust and fumes in industrial settings: explosive, fire and respiratory hazards.

Depending on an industrial unit’s business and functions, dust and fumes produced from it can be extremely hazardous for workers, as well as the surrounding environment. To manage hazardous fumes and particles safely, an introduction to some of them is necessary first.

Coffee Dust

Coffee dust is a known cause for the following respiratory symptoms and conditions among factory workers:

Acute and severe asthma.
Morning coughs and tightness of chest.
Increased allergic reactions and susceptibility to respiratory infections.

Cement Dust

Cement dust affects the entire respiratory system, but it can be particularly damaging for human lung tissue. Prolonged exposure to cement dust is known to cause epithelial tissue damage, as is commonly observed in cement factory workers. The lung damage can lead to:

Persistent coughing fits
Severe asthma
Susceptibility to respiratory allergies and lung infections
Lung cell inflammation
Lung cancer

Combustible Dust

Combustible particles are the most hazardous forms of dust in any industrial facility. Volatile dust can combust easily, often leading to fires, explosions, injuries, loss of lives, and financial losses. Common combustible particles originate from zinc, aluminum, iron carbonyl, magnesium, eggs, sugar, flour, potato starch, cornstarch, rice starch, fruits, vegetables, coal, charcoal, plastic polymers, cellulose, and cotton to name just a few.

To clean and manage combustible dust safely, selecting an adequately equipped industrial vacuum cleaner is of the utmost importance. There are different requirements for that, depending on what kind of dust the vacuum is supposed to clean up. Choosing the wrong vacuum cleaner could start fires or even cause an explosion through friction.

Soldering Fumes

Soldering fumes are highly toxic, although the toxicity varies in accordance with the method and the surface. Lead poisoning, colophony-induced asthma, and respiratory irritation, and allergic reactions are common symptoms of even short-term, unprotected exposure to soldering fumes.

Asphalt/Bitumen Fumes

Both factory workers and roadworkers are at risk of being constantly exposed to bitumen fumes. Unless adequate measures are maintained, asphalt fumes can lead to:

Allergic dermatitis
Constant fatigue
Throat and eye allergies
Persistent coughing fits
Skin cancer

Maintaining Safety

In any hazardous work environment, PPE (respirators, bodysuits, etc.) should not be considered as the primary protective measure for the workers. Instead, they are to only act as essential but supplementary protection. The main hazard management system is generally established with a three-pronged approach:

Educating workers about the potential dangers and training them on how to avoid exposure.
Keeping the work area safe by cleaning out hazardous dust and fumes with adequate, industrial vacuum cleaners and chimneys.
Placing administrative measures to ensure compliance from all workers within the facility.

The biggest challenge in managing hazardous fumes and dust is related to the invisible or delayed risk they pose. Workers and supervisors may not be able to notice a gas leak in a chemical facility, or slow accumulation of combustible dust in a corner until it is too late. Some degree of risk in this regard is unavoidable, but chances of an accident can be reduced with routine maintenance and regular checks to detect failing safety equipment in advance.