What Is A Dust Risk Assessment?

Being exposed to dust will always come with respiratory health risks. Dust particles, even if not visible, can still affect you in highly adverse ways. These dirt mites can penetrate and bury themselves deep in the lungs. A dust risk assessment is designed to identify, evaluate and control dust, so you can prevent symptoms that range from mild irritation to potentially life-threatening respiratory conditions for workers, such as silicosis and even cancer. 

If this were to happen within a UK business, that business could be liable to a significant degree. This is because they are held in check by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, as well as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. Both of these laws, in essence, make it mandatory for companies to carry out measures to ensure the health of their employees is well looked after. 

A comprehensive dust risk assessment is designed to identify risks, mitigate them, and suggest methods going further to ensure your workplace is dust-free. Our expert-backed guide below explores dust risk assessments in greater depth.

What Are Dust Risk Assessments?

A dust risk assessment is designed for industries where dust generation is a problem. Think construction, carpentry, and metalwork. 

This type of risk assessment will involve sampling current working conditions to determine if the levels of dust in the work environment is appropriate or not. Dangerously high levels of dust – both toxic and nontoxic – can prove hazardous to health. By sampling conditions now, you can learn if your workplace is safe or not. 

After the proper sampling and testing procedures have been carried out a full dust risk assessment will be carried out, alongside recommendations for future changes to improve air quality in the work environment. 

Why Might I Need A Dust Risk Assessment? 

If you work in an industry that’s known for generating dust of any kind, then you’ll need to carefully consider how a dust risk assessment might benefit you. It’s all about protecting your workers and ensuring you are compliant with relevant health and safety policies in the workplace. 

It’s always better to protect your workers and your business reputation by erring on the side of caution and opting for a dust risk assessment if you’re concerned. 

How A Dust Risk Assessment Should Look:

Consultation and Inspection

Upon arranging a time, a meeting with the client should be arranged to understand their specific concerns and goals of the dust risk assessment. This is important, as dust can come in different kinds as a result of different materials and equipment being handled. Any past incidents and concerns, as well as any dust control methods currently being used, ought to be explored here. 

The survey will then go over several different categories: 

  • Workplace Layout – Mapping out the workplace and noting specific areas that have one of three things – high employee activity, material handling and storage locations, and confined spaces is vital. All of these are areas of high concern, as dust generation is highest in these areas. 
  • Ventilation Systems – Inspecting and assessing the design and capacity of ventilation systems throughout the workplace comes next. The locations of vents and air intake points will be recorded, with the goal of ensuring they’re positioned to maximise dust control. 
  • Work Processes – Documenting the workplace processes throughout each work area and identifying any steps that generate dust will inform next steps. For example – grinding, mixing, sanding, and transferring materials are all common examples of work that are heavy sources of dust. 


For an idea of the types of things that ought to be noted, take a look at our table below: 

Dust Level Manufacturing Dust Sources Examples
Low Finished parts, lubricants, packaging materials Metal shavings, oil mist, cardboard debris
Medium Raw materials, intermediate products, spills and leaks Dry powders, wood chips, plastic pellets, minor leaks of liquids
High Cutting, grinding, sanding, blasting equipment, powder transfer Metal filings, stone dust, sawdust, paint pigments, finely dispersed powders

Dust Sampling 

Dust Sampling’s main objective is to catalogue both the concentration and type of dust available. This step is simple, and is mostly done to inform the dust control step and risk evaluation steps.

It’s possible that the dust sampling will be postponed until after the control recommendations. This is because if there is far too much dust in the area, then it needs to be immediately cleared, as it’s considered a place that has too much hazardous dust to work in.

Nonetheless, the dust sampling’s main objective is to identify the types and concentrations of dust within the area, which could be toxic dusts.  

  • Personal Sampling – Personal sampling involves attaching a small air sampling pump to a worker’s lapel. Over a period of time, which will be during work shifts, it will collect airborne dust particles through a filter. This ensures that the assessor can accurately measure dust exposure experienced throughout the workplace. 
  • Area Sampling – This involves placing down a stationary air sampling pump throughout strategic locations, collecting airborne dust samples and testing for harmful effects. 
  • Settled Dust Sampling – Settled dust refers to dust resting on surfaces. This can be done using wipes, or simply a vacuum. This also allows for an estimation of the current housekeeping abilities, and where it requires improvement.


Not all of these samplings may be used in your workplace. The most effective measures at the time ought to be considered. The following are some of the common places dust can be found across different industries:

Dust Type Potential Health Hazards Typical Settings
Respirable Crystalline Silica Dust Silicosis (a potentially fatal lung disease), lung cancer, kidney disease, autoimmune disorders Construction, mining, quarries, foundries, stone fabrication, sandblasting, brick manufacturing
Wood Dust Respiratory irritation, asthma, allergic reactions, nasal cancer (with hardwoods in particular) Woodworking, carpentry, furniture making, sawmills
Metal Dust Irritation, potential for toxic effects depending on metal (lead, cadmium, etc.), metal fume fever Metalworking, welding, foundry operations, grinding, polishing
Flour Dust Respiratory irritation, occupational asthma (“baker’s asthma”), allergic reactions Bakeries, flour mills, grain handling
Coal Dust Coal dust causes worker’s pneumoconiosis (black lung), bronchitis, lung damage Mining, coal processing
Textile Dust Byssinosis (“brown lung”), respiratory irritation, asthma, chronic lung disease Textile mills, cotton processing
Organic Dusts (General) Irritation, allergic reactions, toxic mould exposure, infectious diseases (if from animal sources) Agriculture, composting, waste handling, grain storage, livestock confinement
Chemical Dusts Wide range of effects depending on the specific chemical – irritation, toxicity, cancer, sensitization Chemical manufacturing, pharmaceutical industries, laboratories
Nuisance Dust Typically considered as causing minor irritation, but long-term exposure can contribute to lung problems Offices, indoor construction, general manufacturing where dust generation is low

Risk Evaluation

The risk evaluation stage refers to the tallying up of the risk levels that the dust within the workplace may pose. It considers several factors; how much the workers are exposed, the severity of the dust type, and the effectiveness of current control measures:

  • Exposure – One of the main things is exposure. Here the assessor needs to consider the frequency and duration of dust generation activities mainly, but also factors that influence how close workers are to dust. For example, if a worker was to practise high dust-generation in an enclosed space, this would be considered high exposure. 
  • Severity – This will catalogue the type of dust and its known health effects. The assessor will take into account concentration and the duration of workers in the area. Some dust has low consequences to inhale, but those that do must be dealt with. 
  • Existing Controls – This will determine how effective the control measures against dust generation are in this area. This includes things such as ventilation systems, water sprays, enclosures etc. These things will have been catalogued the first time around, but only after sampling would you know how effective the measures implemented are. 

Dust Control Recommendations

Dust control recommendations refer to a list of measures designed to prevent as much damage from dust as possible, whether that is through elimination, control or protective equipment. 

  • Elimination – The most optimal way to be rid of dust is to eliminate the source, rather than the dust itself. Of course, this is not always possible, but it will be implemented where it can. The following are some examples of how this could be implemented: 
    • Process Modifications – Processes of concern will be raised and whether or not it could possibly be replaced with a non or lesser dust generating practice will be explored. For example, thermal cutting causes dust, but laser cutting does not. 
    • Material Substitution – Is it possible to swap one material in the process for another? Instead of sanding wood yourself, for example, is it possible to buy pre-sanded wood? 
    • Automation – Automation is how productivity thrives in business. Is it possible to install automated processes and keep workers clear from dust generation? 
  • Engineering Controls – Engineering controls refer to the practice of keeping dust out of a worker’s breathing zone. Some of these controls refer to: 
    • Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) – LEV systems are designed specifically for dust collection. They even have the capability to directly connect to dust-generating equipment. There will be a required period of LEV testing in this case.
    • Enclosures and Barriers – Physical barriers such as walls, booths and curtains. Combined with LEVs, this is a highly effective method of removing dust from the area. 
    • Dust Extraction Units – Dust extraction units connect to machines and directly extract, preventing the dust from escaping the source and going airborne, such as collection hoods, ducts and filters. 
    • Water Suppression Systems – Moisture weighs down dust and makes it unable to go airborne. As a result, where it’s possible, using spray systems will ensure the dust stays grounded. 
  • Administrative Controls – Finding out how work practices and procedures can be changed, such as through job rotation and access restriction, can be done to minimise dust exposure. Part of this could also be LEV testing.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – Respirators can be employed as a last line of defence, but we’d recommend against relying on it as a main deterrent. These could be anything from respirators to protective clothing and eye guards. 

Can I Get A Dust Risk Assessment With Indigo Surveys?

Whilst we don’t offer dust risk assessments at Indigo Surveys currently, we are frequently asked about them. Through collaborating with industry specialists we’ve put together the above guide to show you how a dust risk assessment ought to be carried out. 

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