Dusty cargoes

Typical cargoes in UK ports include grain, soya, animal foodstuffs, fishmeal, ores, coal and coke, cement, biomass, phosphate and other fertilisers.

Handling these cargoes can create large quantities of dust. In some cases, eg coal and aggregates, the dust is simply small particles of the material itself. In other cases, eg grains and pulses, the dust may include contaminants such as bacteria and fungi. Some of these substances will have specific workplace exposure limits (WELs) and may also be classified as dangerous substances.

Different dusts have different adverse effects on health, but the most important effects of dusty cargoes are on the lungs. Some of these dusts (including grain and soya) can be a cause of occupational asthma. Other dust may cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Under certain conditions the dusts given off by some cargoes may form an explosible and/or flammable mixture with air. Examples include sugar, coal, wood, grain, certain metals and many synthetic organic chemicals.

How to reduce the risks from dusty cargoes

Health risks

Exposure to dust should be avoided. If this is not possible then it should be adequately controlled. The level of control of exposure required will depend on the potential health effects of the dust.  Some ways to control exposure include:

  • design tasks to reduce the amount of dust generated
  • restrict staff entry to dusty areas such as warehouses especially during tipping, loading and pushing activities
  • use totally enclosed, continuous handling systems - these usually provide the best control and should be used whenever reasonably practicable
  • suppress dust with sprays of water or other binding agents
  • ensure all equipment used to reduce dust exposure is properly maintained and in efficient working order
  • provide suitable air filtration systems to the cabs of all vehicles used to handle dusty cargoes
  • provide and use respiratory protective equipment (RPE) - this should be suitable for its purpose, maintained and compatible with other protective equipment worn; This should only be as a last resort after other measures have been taken
  • provide adequate information, instruction and training to workers so that they are aware of the health risks and are able to use the control measures properly
  • where appropriate, provide health surveillance for workers

Explosion risks

Possible control measures include:

  • maintaining good housekeeping ie avoiding or minimising the build-up or release of dust
  • the use of suitably maintained local exhaust ventilation systems
  • excluding or controlling any sources of ignition, eg use of protected lighting
  • the use of permit to work systems for activities such as hot work in affected areas.

Which laws apply?

More information

Port Skills and Safety website for guidance on:

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Updated 2021-11-09