Labour Research August 2012

Health & Safety Matters

Regulation of dust levels not adequate

Workers in the waste and recycling industry are being exposed to excessive levels of dust, according to a recent report, which has called for lower exposure limits.

The study, commissioned by the British Occupational Health Research Foundation on behalf of the Environmental Services Association Education Trust, found that: “The current regulatory limits for inert dust are not adequately protective for the types of dust encountered in the waste industry. Exposures to dust and/or bioaerosol at many waste handling sites are likely to give rise to significantly increased risks of chronic respiratory illness.”

Workers engaged in composting, working on picking lines at materials recovery facilities as well as cleaning and maintenance operations were the most vulnerable. Specifically, they were found to be particularly likely to be exposed to high levels of dust and/or bioaerosol — leading to them contracting potentially life-threatening diseases.

The report noted that workers with compromised immune function, respiratory conditions or who have been previously sensitised to moulds may, even at low exposure levels, experience an exacerbation of symptoms. By way of illustration of the scale of the problem, the percentage of the general population that is sensitised to moulds is estimated at 5%.

The study recommends that the waste industry be “proactive in monitoring worker exposure to dust and other hazardous substances and that it adopts much lower exposure limits for respirable and inhalable dust than currently required under UK law”.