In Britain, mention of the word ‘pneumoconiosis’ conjures up a dark, industrial past where countless thousands of workers suffered horrific lung diseases caused by the inhalation and retention of dust, especially in coal mining, iron and steel production, and in asbestos-product manufacture.
Even in 2010, there were 144 deaths recorded from pneumoconiosis, mostly due to coal dust and silica, and 169 deaths where asbestosis was found to be an underlying cause from the inhaling of asbestos fibre dust particles.
Today, dust caused by construction or other processes, where specific types of material are being worked, is mostly the area where serious damage to health is of vital concern, not infrequently, leading to injury compensation cases brought as a result of life-changing lung diseases.
The main types of dust most commonly referred to in personal injury claims are those arising from materials used in the ‘construction’ industries, which are related to asthma, lung cancer, silicosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Around 15 per cent of COPD, including bronchitis and emphysema, is thought to be work related. This suggests there could be at least 4,000 COPD deaths each year due to past occupational exposures to dust, fumes and noxious chemicals. In addition, those who work with metal grinding or welding have a risk of inhalation of metallic particles.
Silica – produced by silica-containing materials, such as concrete, mortar and sandstone .
Wood – created when working softwood, hardwood and wood-based products, such as MDF and plywood.
Lower toxicity – arising from materials containing very little or no silica, such as gypsum in plasterboard,
Berylliosis is a less common but well known occupational lung disease, which can cause an allergic immune response in those working in the aerospace, nuclear, telecommunications, semi-conductor and electrical industries.
While it is considered almost impossible to prevent all industrial dust diseases, close monitoring plays a crucial role in reducing risk, which involves adequate ventilation and the wearing of face masks. However, relying on a mask for high risk tasks is not advised when excessive volumes of dust are expected and filters become easily clogged.
Different material process are also likely to require specific types of mask protection and dedicated filters. It is important that a mask is correctly worn and fitted to the face and it should be remembered that a mask only protects the person wearing it.
The main objective for ensuring occupational dust protection is always to prevent dust from becoming airborne in the first place.
A mask only protects the person wearing it. Anyone else in the area could still be at risk from the dust if they do not wear a mask as well. There are many common mistakes that people make with masks. These include choosing the wrong type, not being face fit tested or not wearing them properly.