There are any number of reasons why dust in the air could become a problem in your home or workplace. Sometimes dust can be a temporary issue caused by building work or external environmental conditions like a strong wind blowing sand, dust or pollen around more than usual. However, dust can become a real health issue in workplaces where the activities of the business itself result in high levels of dust and fine airborne particles (particulates) being created. This type of air pollution can lead to a significant decrease in air quality, and prolonged exposure can lead to conditions including coughs, wheeziness and headaches. Dealing with dust is usually straightforward, but first you need to identify whether or not you have a problem and this is where dust monitoring and air quality testing come in to play.
What is dust?
Dust is a catch-all term given to tiny particles of matter or particulates which float around in the air. The composition of dust will depend on the environment. In a family home, dust will typically be made up of hair, fibres from clothing or skin scales. In an office or factory environment, dust might be caused by paper, fibres from building materials, photocopiers, or other industrial machinery and manufacturing processes. Additionally, other particles found in the air can enter buildings from outside and these can include pollen, or pollution particles from car exhausts.
A sample of air from any environment will tend to contain some form of dust and particulate matter … a little bit of dust is unavoidable. However, if the levels of dust in your home or workplace are starting to cause health issues, then there are several ways of monitoring the quality of your air and dust levels, and then taking action to deal with them.
Dust monitoring & particulate matter sampling
Particulate matter sampling is the technical term used to describe indoor air quality investigations involving dust and the identification of airborne particulate matter. Dust monitoring and particulate sampling of this nature is usually carried out by air quality experts like WTS who have the specialist equipment needed to perform such investigations.
How is particulate sampling carried out?
When particulate matter sampling is being carried out it’s usually best to take expert advice on where the sampling machines should be located, as different parts of a building can give quite different results. The air quality specialists at WTS will be able to evaluate your building and give advice on where the dust monitoring and sampling equipment should be located.
Usually, a pump will be installed in your office, home or factory, and set to draw a set volume of air through a specialist particulate matter sampling machine and onto a special filter, over a set period of time. Once the air testing period has ended, the filters are then removed from the sampling machine and examined in the laboratory to determine what particles are in the air and how best to deal with the problem.
Most dust is invisible to the naked eye
Particles in the air which are measured during the monitoring process tend to be tiny and not visible to the naked eye. These particles are so tiny that they are measured in microns. A micron is one thousandth of a millimetre, and 95% of particles floating around in the air are one micron or less in diameter.
In practical terms, this means that the dust you can see in the air is just a tiny percentage of the dust and particles which are present. Air testing using pumps and filters will not only establish which types of particles are in your air but also the size of these particles.
Air monitoring & laboratory analysis
On completion of the on-site investigations and laboratory analysis a report will be prepared that will identify the size and types of dust found at each location. The report will compare the findings against the Health & Safety Executives Workplace Exposure Limits (WELs) listed in their document EH40. EH40/2005 contains a list of workplace exposure limits for use with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) 2002 and gives guidance on:
- European occupational exposure limits.
- Workplace exposure limits.
- Approved workplace exposure limits.
Once you’ve dealt with the dust problems, which may involve the installation of new machinery or local exhaust ventilation (LEV) systems, you can repeat the dust monitoring process to see whether any improvement has been achieved.
Treating dust problems to improve air quality
The way in which you deal with the problem of dust and indoor air quality will depend on what the results of the dust monitoring and laboratory analysis shows to be the predominant issue (or issues). For example, if pollen is found to be a high proportion of your dust, then practical measures such as keeping windows closed and getting staff to leave coats in cloakrooms could solve the problem. If however, the testing shows up a more complex picture of lots of different particles from different sources, then you may need to explore other options.
Improving air quality with local exhaust ventilation systems
The most common way of dealing with problems associated with airborne dust in the workplace is to install some form of filtered air conditioning or local exhaust ventilation system (LEV). The air filters such specialist extract systems use need to be fine enough to stop even the smallest particles getting through, and will probably need regular cleaning or changing to keep the filters running efficiently.
An effective air filtration system will help to control the quantity of particulate matter in the air to safe levels but it is unlikely to eliminate them completely. Once the air filtration system has been installed, commissioned and it’s been running for a number of weeks, you should repeat the dust testing procedure to make sure the equipment is effective. Regular maintenance, dust monitoring and air testing should continue to ensure a safe working environment is maintained.
Specialist air monitoring & testing solutions
Water Treatment Services offer a comprehensive range of indoor air testing, dust monitoring and environmental evaluation solutions. Find out and how we can help improve workplace health and well-being, employee comfort, attendance and productivity issues. We can provide advice and full support to help you identify the most appropriate strategies for managing your indoor air quality issues.
With offices in London serving the South and South East England, Manchester (North West), Birmingham (Midlands), Bristol (South East England and Wales), Leeds (North and North East) and Glasgow (Scotland), supported by regional teams of specially trained engineers, air quality specialists and technicians we offer cost effective air testing and environmental support solutions across the whole of the UK and Ireland.
More information about dust in the environment … here →