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January 30, 2023

Reduce Exposure to Inhalable Particulate Matter: Equipment Safety & OSHA Compliance

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Manufacturing processes that involve dry bulk solids can pose a significant risk for workplace accidents and unsafe working conditions. To mitigate this risk, dust control measures must be implemented to prevent dust explosionsand protect employees from inhalable particulates.

In this blog post, we will discuss what inhalable particulate matter is, the importance of dust-tight filling and unloading in reducing respirable dust exposure, and the regulations manufacturers must comply with to ensure a safe working environment.

What is Inhalable Particulate Matter and why is it dangerous?

Inhalable particulate matteris a mixture of solids and aerosols that can contain both organic and inorganic material. Sources of particulate matter include respirable dust from construction sites, landfills, agriculture, and industrial processes used in manufacturing various products.

When particles become deposited in the lungs, they can cause tissue damage and inflammation, which can lead to negative health outcomes. Short-term exposure to particulate matter has been associated with hospital admissions for people with heart or lung conditions, cases of acute or chronic bronchitis and asthma attacks. Long-term exposure may increase the risk of premature death.

OSHA PELs: Regulations for Dust Control & Safety Measures

To comply with regulations and prevent negative health effects stemming from workplace dust exposure, manufacturers must comply with regulations set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state entities, like the California Air Resources Board(CARB).

OSHA has established “permissible exposure levels” (PELs) which are legal limits for exposure to certain substances in the workplace. However, for substances that do not have established PELs, OSHA relies on recommended limits published by industry organizations such as the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH).

Exceeding PELs or industry-recommended limits may lead to charges of violating the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act, which requires employers to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious physical harm.

Adhering to Local & State Dust Control Policies

In addition to complying with OSHA regulations, manufacturers must also comply with state and local regulations, such as those established by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). CARB is responsible for regulating air pollution and has established stringent permitting requirements for a range of industries, including efforts to limit employee exposure to potentially harmful inhalable particulates in indoor work areas.

3 Examples of Inhalable Particulate Matter: Powdered Metal & Minerals

1. Silicosis

Silicosis is a potentially fatal disease caused by exposure to silica dustin the lungs. Silica dust is often found in cement and masonry, which puts construction workers at risk of unwanted exposures. Inhalation leads to the formation of scar tissue in the lungs. Over time, nodules may form, which can interfere with breathing.

2. Carbon Black

Carbon Black is a super fine powder used in tires and other rubber products. It may also be used to add color to products ranging from inks to leather goods. It is also used in insulation for electrical equipment.

Carbon blackis a by-product of burning fuels, and carbon black particles often become coated with other chemicals that make them even more hazardous when inhaled. Short-term exposure may cause lung irritation. Long-term, it may cause chronic bronchitis, COPD and lung disease.

3. Raney Nickel

Raney nickel, also called nickel powder, is a finely powdered metal used in processing vegetable and petroleum oils. It is considered a carcinogen and may have adverse health effects when inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Short-term inhalation may irritate the nose, throat and lungs. While OSHA has established a PEL of 1 milligram per cubic meter over an 8-hour work shift, health experts recommend keeping exposure as low as possible.

The Difference Between Safe-to-Inhale vs. Safe-to-Eat

Although OSHA hasn’t established PELs for powdered flavorings, it does point out that just because a substance is safe to eat doesn’t mean it’s safe to inhale.

Furthermore, the presence of an inhalation hazard in the workplace may constitute a violation of the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act. Diacetyl is one such substance commonly used to flavor packaged foods. Health effects among exposed employees have included bronchitis and fixed airways obstruction.

Preventing Dust Exposure through Proper Equipment

Workplace controls must include proper handling and storage of powdered materials to reduce the risk of inhalation and explosion. Flexible intermediate bulk containers, or FIBCs, must be tightly sealed during filling, storage, transport and emptying. 

Bulk bag fillers, unloaders and dumping stations, for example, must be designed for dust-free operations. Equipment design must include dust-tight connections during filling and unloading. Optional features that enhance dust control include access doors and glove box access.

Additionally, manufacturers should also ensure that safety data sheets include all known exposure limits, including those published by ACGIH where applicable.

In conclusion, it is extremely important for manufacturers to take steps to prevent employee exposure to inhalable particulates and comply with regulations. Doing this will ensure a safe working environment for their employees. By implementing dust-tight filling and unloading equipment in their facilities and following OSHA and state regulations, manufacturers can reduce the risk of costly enforcement actions and protect employees from harmful dust exposure.