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Dust in the Workplace

Workplace Health and Safety (WHS). The mere mention of the phrase can cause a range of responses from raised eyebrows, to shudders, to rolled eyes and everything in between. In reality WHS is a necessary part of worklife in Australia, and helps keep everyone safe and accountable. Smart Apprenticeship Solutions is here to help you navigate the WHS waters, and bust a few urban myths.

Dust in the workplace – particularly in construction – is an important consideration. There are a range of areas to think about, and we’ve outlined a few below.

Managing dust in the Workplace

Construction dust often includes the mineral Crystalline Silica or quartz, which is commonly found in rocks, sand and clay. This mineral is common in concrete, bricks, tiles, fiber-cement sheeting and other construction materials. High energy processes like drilling, sawing, grinding and polishing generate dust containing crystalline silica (also known as respirable crystalline silica, or RCS). These particles are so fine they stay in the air a long time, and can be inhaled into the lungs.

In short, construction dust can be problematic and needs proper management.

The first important step to managing dust in the workplace is identifying tasks that use or generate RCS. These include tasks such as using bagged cement and fiber cement sheeting.

During these tasks, you can control the risk of exposure by stopping or reducing the dust, controlling the dust, using power tools more effectively, and then managing and maintaining these controls.

It’s also important that health records of workers are maintained, where workers are exposed to RCS.

Records need to be maintained for all these steps, and kept for 30 years.

Which Mask do you Need?

Selecting the correct mask is important to ensure appropriate coverage. The main factors include selecting a mask that is appropriate for the level of air contamination, and making sure the mask is suitable for the type of dust in the air. Generally, the more contaminated the air, the more protective the mask needs to be.

Other important factors include the worker, the work task, and the working environment itself.

There are different types of filters (depending on what is in the air). There are also disposable and reusable, and half- and full-face masks.

There’s lots of specific and helpful information available on the Workplace Health and Safety Qld website when you need to select a specific mask.

How to Correctly Fit a Mask

The effectiveness of a mask depends heavily on having a secure fit to the wearer’s face. Unfortunately facial hair such as beards and stubble can distort the fit, therefore the worker should be clean-shaven (where the mask comes into contact with the skin) before wearing the mask.

When fitting a mask for the first time it’s important to perform a ‘fit test’. You can get specialised equipment to help perform this test, or you can simply test whether the wearer is able to smell or taste a test agent whilst wearing the mask.

Each time you wear the mask, be sure to check that the fit is still correct, ensuring the mask is properly positioned and there’s a good seal between skin and mask.

As you can see we are just beginning to scratch the surface of dust in the workplace. It’s just one of the many considerations for workplace health and safety. Smart Apprenticeship Solutions provides support to employers, apprentices, and trainees from beginning to end. If you would like to find out more or need some assistance in the area of Workplace Health and Safety, please get in touch with the team at Smart Apprenticeship Solutions today!


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