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Silent but deadly – Airborne Hazards

Controlling airborne hazards in the workplace is essential to protect workers from a host of lung illnesses.

Airborne Hazards in the workplaceWhile COVID 19 continues to take centre stage when it comes to the prevention of respiratory illness in the workplace, there remains a host of airborne hazards that pose an equally high level of risk that employers can not afford to overlook. Each of these must be assessed and controlled so as to prevent workers from contracting lung illnesses such as occupational asthma, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

It is a devasting fact that an average of 13,000 people per year die from occupational diseases from airborne hazards.

The most dangerous aspect of these hazards is the fact that the harmful components are often unknowingly inhaled, with the symptoms associated with respiratory diseases often taking years to present themselves.

Some common day to day airborne hazards are:


Dust is formed of tiny dry particles that can be produced during working activities such as cutting, drilling, mining, grinding, sanding and shovelling.

Silica dust – created when working with concrete, mortar, aggregates and sandstone. 500 workers per year die from this.

Wood dust – created when working with softwood, hardwood, MDF and plywood.

General dust – created when working with plasterboard, marble and limestone.

Metallic dusts – from metals such as lead and aluminium.

Chemical dusts – coal, pesticides and sulphur.

Vegetable dusts – agricultural eg. flour, pollen and grain.


Asbestos has its own set of regulations due to the fact of the hazardous properties. On average 5000 deaths per year.

The biggest threat is when the asbestos is disturbed or damaged during demolition and maintenance work. You must use approved and competent contractors to dispose of any asbestos.

Welding fumes

Frequent exposure to welding fumes can cause long term damage to the lungs and nervous system.

All radiation caused from welding is classed as level 1 carcinogen. Some include stainless steel, chromium iron and nickel are especially notorious for causing issues.

Diesel engine exhaust emission

Can affect any worker who comes into close proximity with diesel vehicle generators with there sooty particles.


Is the 2nd largest cause of lung cancer deaths after smoking.  Radon is another airborne hazard that is invisible to the naked eye while most radon is immediately exhaled, the decay products left behind are radioactive and attach to dust in the atmosphere and also in water droplets and can then be inhaled and lodged in the lungs and airways.


While legionella is a waterborne pathogen, exposure occurs via the inhalation of contaminated droplets. It is a hazard once it has entered the water system. Some examples are spas, showers, air con units legionella bacteria can lead to pneumonia and legionella disease.


There is sufficient scientific evidence to dictate that a primary route is transmission via inhalation of droplets.

Social distancing, cleaning and hygiene regimes are a huge factor to control this,  using PPE can also help.

Minimising exposure can consist of regular COSHH assessments, having regular health screening for staff, adhering to workplace exposure limits, having local exhaust ventilation and as a last report using respiratory protective equipment.


Please contact Joanne Hunt for further information.