Agriculture Risk Advisor: Reduce Exposure to Grain Dust

Grain dust is a serious concern for many farmers. Exposure to grain dust can result in eye, skin and upper respiratory tract irritation, as well as bronchitis symptoms and chronic decrements in pulmonary function. Furthermore, grain dust can cause damage to equipment and is highly combustible, further resulting in reduced efficiency, injury and even death.

About Grain Dust

Grain dust is produced from harvesting, drying, handling, storing or processing crops such as barley, wheat, oats and rye. As such, exposure to grain dust is an inevitable part of the job for many agriculture workers. Grain dust is made up of plant material, mould and mould spores, insect parts, bacteria, endotoxins and soil. This particulate matter can easily find its way into small spaces, leading to adverse health effects and equipment damage, and can explode when ignited if the right conditions are present.

Respiratory Problems Caused by Grain Dust:

  • Inflammation of Air Passages
  • Asthma
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
  • Toxic Organic Dust Syndrome
  • Farmer’s Lung

How to Reduce Exposure

Employers can reduce worker and equipment exposures to grain dust through many methods, including the following:

  • Installing ventilation systems—Dust collection systems can be utilized to allow the least possible amount of grain dust to escape work sites. They must be regularly cleaned and tested for leaks, however, as damaged filters and faulty seals can reduce efficiency.
  • Improving work practices—Refrain from using compressed air to clean the work site, as high concentrations of airborne grain dust create an explosion hazard. Instead, clean up dust with a vacuum equipped with proper filtration, a broom and dust cloths.
  • Providing personal protective equipment—When engineering controls are not available, respiratory protection, protective clothing, and eye and face protection should be provided to those working with and around grain dust.