Inhaling iron dust: risks and consequences

respirare polvere di ferro conseguenze

The danger of inhaling dust, and iron dust in particular, is a reality in many workplaces in the iron and steel sector. Industry and construction site steel workers, arc welders, technicians and engineers all work in environments where iron dust is released into the atmosphere on a regular basis with consequent danger to human health if health and safety measures are not implemented.

Which jobs expose workers to iron dust?

The dangers to human health originating from breathing dust have been known since the late nineteenth century. The first breathing disorders were observed in mine and coal industry workers. With the development of technology, other substances have also been found to produce particles which are harmful to the respiratory tract. In many cases the hazard is tied to the concentration of dust in the atmosphere, in fact, lengthy exposures to high concentrations and continuous inhalation of airborne dust will turn even the less dangerous types of dust into a serious health problem.

The exposure to iron dust, for example, can lead to a lung ailment termed benign pneumoconiosis, so called because the inhalation of this type of dust has never lead to deceases. However, as previously stated, the continuous inhalation of iron dust to which some workers are subjected, can cause irritation of the mucous membranes and breathing problems. Among the workers who risk constant exposure to iron dust are the ones who work in engineering departments or welders. Moreover, in some chemical laboratories where iron compounds are widely used, there is a high risk of breathing dust and fumes containing iron: in both cases the health problems which arise owing to the continuous exposure to dust are mainly those which cause inflammation of the mucous membranes, conjunctivitis and respiratory difficulties.

It should be emphasized that breathing iron dust has serious consequences on human health, even if these are not fatal. Dust deposits in the lungs are, in fact, minimal, so the conditions that usually lead to the onset of lung disorders, with the exception of few rare cases, are not present.

Which RPD to use in order to avoid breathing iron dust?

When working in hazardous environments, it is essential to protect the respiratory system with devices that are applicable and suitable for the purpose intended. Depending on the job to be performed, simple filtering facepieces might be suitable in some cases while, in other cases, air purifying respirators might be needed to provide worker protection. Modern technologies applied to respiratory protective devices (RPD) help ensure worker safety while easing the stress of breathing.

Workers exposed to iron dust at the workplace need to be provided with compact, lightweight respirators, which allow freedom of movement and protect against the inhalation of dust generated during iron and steel processing. Among the various respiratory protective devices available on the market, lightweight respirators which do not hinder movements and which ease the stress of breathing, such as, powered air purifying respirators may be selected to protect workers exposed to iron dust.