Grain Dust: How to Protect Your Employees

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Grain dust

Grain dust can be harmful to human health. Employees working in certain industry sectors might be exposed to grain dust. These sectors include, for example, flour mills, food factories, animal feed mills, breweries, distilleries, agriculture, grain transportation etc.

According to the Health and Safety Executive,

“Grain dust is the dust produced from the harvesting, drying, handling, storage or processing of barley, wheat, oats, maize or rye and includes any contaminants or additives within the dust.”

In this article we look at the risk to health of grain dust and what employers should do to protect their workers.

What is the Workplace Exposure Limit for grain dust?

The Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) is 10 mg/m³ of grain dust averaged over eight hours. Employers must reduce individual employee’s exposure to below this and also to as low as is reasonably practicable.

Which processes produce grain dust?

There are a multitude of processes that can produce grain dust. These include, but are not limited to, moving grain in a grain store, milling and mixing dry grain, harvesting grain, cleaning silos, transferring grain to and from grain stores etc.

Truck unloading wheat into grain store
Truck unloading wheat into grain store

How can dust from grain be harmful to health?

When some people inhale grain dust it can trigger an allergic reaction in their respiratory system. Since the substance is a respiratory sensitiser, any subsequent exposure may cause respiratory disease.

In the short term, people who work with grain might experience the following:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Rhinitis
  • Skin irritation
  • ‘Grain fever’ / Organic Dust Toxicity Syndrome (ODTS)
Inhaler for asthma
Inhaler for asthma

More serious long-term respiratory complaints might include:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Farmer’s lung (shortness of breath and weight loss)

What should you do to protect your employees?

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (2002) require employers to:

  • Assess the risk of grain dust to your employees’ health and assess the control measures they need to out in place to protect them
  • Keep a record of the above if you have more than 5 employees and tell your employees about the assessment
  • Prevent your employees’ exposure or adequately control it (where prevention is not possible) by providing them with suitable equipment to carry out their work safely
  • Control exposure at source by providing adequate ventilation systems and putting in place organisational measures
  • If adequate control measures cannot be achieved by other means, you should provide respirators, following consultation with individual employees
  • Reduce exposure to below the Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) of 10 mg/m3 of grain dust averaged over eight hours and to as low as is reasonably practicable, as outlined above.

In addition, employers must:

  • Tell employees about the health risks of grain dust
  • Train employees how to use the control measures you have put in place
  • Maintain in working order all dust controls
  • Monitor all dust controls to ensure that a) they are effective, and that b) employee exposure to this harmful substance does not exceed the WEL
  • Organise health checks for employees

Click here for the Health and Safety Executive Guidance Note EH66 with regard to dust from grain.

Wheat grain

How can HVDS help you control exposure?

At HVDS, we provide a range of dust extraction solutions to help you protect your staff. We design and install local exhaust ventilation systems (LEV) to keep your air clean. We also provide full aftermarket support, including regular servicing and testing of your LEV equipment to keep you up and running and compliant at all times. In addition, our spares department supplies state-of-the-art dust extraction parts. Click here for more information about our dust extraction services.

For more information, get in touch with one of our dust extraction specialists today on 01785 256976 or at sales@hvds.co.uk