Controlling exposure to grain dust
The UK imports, exports and produces huge quantities of grain. There are many processes involved in the handling of grain and this produces a lot of grain dust in many different industries.
Grain is the seed from various cereal crops and is made up of a seed coating and inner carbohydrate base. Grains can be contaminated by many different substances and materials, meaning that grain dust is always variable and may contain numerous contaminants. The type of contaminant depends on the grain type and could include, insects or insect parts, mites, fungal spores, microbial toxins, weevils, pollen, animal hair, feathers, silica, soil particles, plant debris, pesticide, fungicide and animal excreta.
Grain dust is produced from the harvesting, handling, drying, processing and storage of crops such as wheat, maize, rye or barley. Dust can be produced when milling, malting, packing, transporting and storing the grain. The health risks that arise can include asthma, often caused by a sensitivity to storage mites. Storage conditions can also exacerbate the problem, such as damp environments for example. This can cause exposure to mould and the fungal and bacterial spores it contains.
Other associated health risks include problems with eye and skin irritation, including conjunctivitis and skin rashes. Grain dust can also trigger a respiratory allergic reaction. Symptoms include rhinitis, breathing difficulties or coughing, asthma and chronic bronchitis over time.
More serious reactions include the diseases associated with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease which cause longer term illness. There is also a higher risk of Farmer’s Lung, where symptoms include a cough, fever, weight loss, joint pain and breathlessness.
A short-term illness also associated with exposure to grain dust is organic dust toxic syndrome. This has a sudden onset with chest pain, cough and a flu-like fever.
Important ways to minimise grain dust exposure include adjusting processes to reduce dust production at source, using a local exhaust ventilation system, maintaining good ventilation and minimising the time of and number of people facing exposure.
Local exhaust ventilation systems must be maintained regularly, and workers should be trained on how to correctly use the system and to know how to recognise when it might not be working effectively. For quality components, like a Spiral Duct, visit Dust Spares
Instilling good working practices in your employees is also essential for minimising the risks of harmful effects from grain dust. Don’t brush dust off clothing or used compressed air and never dry sweep but instead use a vacuum or wet cleaning method.
Remember that visible signs of a problem include obvious dust clouds, layers of dust accumulating on floors, dust building up on equipment or surfaces or dust leaks from machinery. Often, dust is made up of very fine particles that can’t be seen but are still being breathed deeply into the lungs, where it causes the most harm.