High levels of dust can be produced when cement is handled, for example when emptying or disposing of bags. Scabbling or concrete cutting can also produce high levels of dust that may contain silica.
In the short term, exposure to high levels of cement dust irritates the nose and throat. Longer term exposure could lead to occupational asthma. Mortar can also contain respirable crystalline silica (RCS).
RCS is also found in concrete and can lead to the development of silicosis or scarring of the lungs, which results in a loss of lung function and severe shortness of breath. Exposure to high concentrations can lead to death.
If you cannot get rid of silica dust, you should reduce exposure. In most cases it is feasible to control RCS by dust suppression techniques or local exhaust ventilation. Exhaust-ventilated tools that remove the dust at source, and tools fitted with a water supply for dust suppression, are widely available. Capturing or controlling the dust at source is nearly always better than attempting to control exposure by ventilating the whole area.