For any jobsite, safety should be a top priority. And it’s not always the big things that are the most dangerous. Something as small as a dust particle can be treacherous for workers. The creation of dust while working is inevitable, but how you choose to deal with it is up to you.
OSHA requires that employees be adequately equipped to address hazards arising from their working environment and processes. In some cases, passive filtration devices like dust masks are sufficient for dealing with airborne particulate; but in other cases, an active dust removal or filtration system will be necessary.
Common types of dust
Let’s take a look at a few common types of dust to understand where they come from and the hazards they pose:
• Silica dust is generated by working with concrete and masonry materials, as well as drywall and joint compound. This dust is harmful if inhaled and can lead to lung disease and lung cancer if proper precautions are not taken. A staggering 2 million U.S. workers are estimated to be exposed to silica dust annually—a leading contributor to why OSHA lists “respiratory protection,” or a lack thereof, as the fourth most-cited workplace safety violation in 2015.
• Wood dust in general can be harmful, but it can be particularly dangerous if the dust comes from wood that has been pressure-treated. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cautions against prolonged exposure to pressure-treated lumber dust on the grounds that it commonly contains high levels of carcinogenic arsenic. This is why the EPA strongly recommends cleaning up after working with pressure-treated lumber in order to keep this arsenic from leaching its way into the environment.
• Lead dust in construction generally arises from the restoration, repair and paint-related projects on an older site. Lead hasn’t been a common component of general construction materials since 1978 because of its known health risks, but lead can still be found on many worksites. Removing or working around materials containing lead should be avoided if you haven’t completed a lead management certification course.
• Organic dust can be created by moldy conditions or accumulated animal waste on a worksite. Construction and remodeling professionals should also be aware of the dangers posed by organic dust and, when in doubt, consult an expert to be sure and use the proper safety equipment or processes.
Now that we have identified some common dust types and the threats they can pose, let’s look at a few of the different ways to mitigate the risk of dust inhalation on a worksite:
Plain and simple, the best way to manage dust intake is to put on a dust mask. Masks are readily available at most hardware stores and are very affordable. There are, however, a wide variety of masks on the market, so make sure to pick the right one for the job to ensure that your mask will protect you from the kind of dust or vapors you encounter.
It’s also important to pay close attention to how your mask fits. Masks that aren’t properly fitted can allow particulate matter to bypass the mask entirely, leaving you just as unprotected as you would be without a mask at all.
In addition to wearing a mask, you can minimize the amount of dust entering the air by capturing it as it is created via dust extraction. Dust extraction attachments for tools generally fall into two categories:
Tool powered — This concept, once limited to tools like sanders, is becoming more common in new categories like hammer drills, which have come to include tool-powered dust systems. These systems remove dust from around the drilling area, even as the drill progresses into its hole.
Tool-powered systems are often preferred in situations where vacuum-powered extraction would be exceptionally cumbersome or impossible; however, the smaller on-board canisters generally require more frequent emptying.
Vacuum powered — These attachments are great for bigger, more extensive and dustier projects, and they are sometimes included with purchase or available separately. They make use of a vacuum system to “clear the air,” but not all vacuums are created as equal. A vacuum is generally used for simple clean-up, whereas a more advanced “dust extraction system,” like the Bosch VAC090A, is built for working with power tools and contains several features to expect from an advanced extraction system:
• Power tool activation: Tools can be plugged directly into the vacuum so that when the vacuum “notices” that the tool has been triggered, it turns itself on.
• Filtration: The best extraction systems fall short if proper filters are not used. There are a wide variety of filters built for the various types of jobsite dust, so be sure you’re equipped with the right one for the task at hand.
• Automatic filter cleaning: A vacuum’s ability to function diminishes as it continues to collect dust in its filter. Vacuums without auto filter-cleaning demand regular manual cleaning, whereas auto filter-cleaning means you can keep working with fewer non-productive interruptions.
Unfortunately, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to preventing dust inhalation. But with some basic knowledge, you can ensure that your worksite is properly equipped to deal with dust hazards. And understanding the basic elements of dust safety can help professionals make their job safer for everyone. If you ever have any questions or concerns, be sure to consult an expert—and always err on the side of safety.
This content is sponsored by Bosch Power Tools.
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