How dangerous is your dust?

Published : 10/12/2016 09:02:04
Categories : Harrison Hire & Sales Posts

There is a tremendous legal responsibility for employers to ensure the safety of their workforce; the management of cleaning and extracting dust is no different. We all know that asbestos is dangerous but many dusts are just as potentially lethal, yet without proper guidance you could not only be jeopardising the health of your workers, but causing further risks to the working environment.


We can identify two significant dangers that dust poses when trying to clean or remove it;

1) Risk of combustion
2) Risk to our health if inhaled 

                                                                   VHS 110

What most people don’t realise is that the majority of vacuum cleaners on the market are not suitable for industrial applications as they are incapable of filtering the small (and most dangerous particles) before the air going into the vacuum is exhausted. Remember, just because you can’t see the dust being exhausted, doesn’t mean it isn’t there, fine dust is the most dangerous to our health.

So, how can we identify a risk? 

First we need to recognise the Occupational Exposure Limit (OEL) of the dust, this is the maximum concentration of dust allowed in the working environment averaged over the length of a working day. If this OEL is exceeded and the health of a worker threatened, you as an employer may well be in breach of the law. HSE produce a brochure detailing many hazardous dusts. The OEL of your product should also appear on the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) which will be available from the manufacturer of the product.

The second risk is potential explosion. Many natural dust such as flour, aluminium, starch, chocolate powder etc. are known as explosive risks. When you collect combustible dust in a vacuum cleaner, you mix it with copious amounts of air creating a potentially explosive cloud inside your vacuum cleaner. A static electric discharge or spark from a motor is all that is required to ignite the dust.

How do I clean up these materials safely?

The OEL tells us how dangerous the dust is, the higher the number, the lower the risk. Dust is classified in 3 bands, “L” (Low risk – dusts OEL above 1mg per cubic metre), “M” (Medium Risk – dusts with OEL of 0.1-1mg per cubic metre) and “H” (High risk, not to be confused with HEPA – dusts with OEL of less than 0.1mg per cubic metre. Safety vacuums are labelled “L”, “M” & “H” in accordance with their ability to collect hazardous dusts safely.

A standard vacuum, industrial or otherwise has NO safety features to prevent sparks caused in the machine that could ignite the collected dust or dust in the atmosphere causing your vacuum or in the worst case scenario the working environment to ignite and explode! Generally speaking if you have a natural dust, the chances are it can be ignited and could pose a risk to your equipment, yourself and your workers if not collected properly. Our range ATEX-compliant vacuums are guaranteed to not ignite the dust collected are divided into Zones; Zones 2 & 1 are zones that may or will contain a potential explosive gas or vapour and Zones 22 & 21 are zones that may contain a potentially explosive dust. Only machines that are labelled as ATEX compliant for the correct zone are able to collect potentially explosive.

If you aren’t sure about the risks of your dust to your workforce or working environment, don’t take a chance. Call us free on 0800 888 6662 or email We will be more than happy to advise how to safely deal with your dust.

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