Agriculture is the process of cultivating the soil, growing crops and raising livestock. It involves the provision of plant and animal products destined for human consumption as well as distribution and marketing.

The history of agriculture started many thousands of years ago with the gathering of wild grains, followed in time with plant and animal husbandry. Nowadays, agriculture has dramatically evolved and has become more intensive to respond to the growing demand.

Despite significant progress in technology, agriculture still ranks as one of the most hazardous occupational industry. Agricultural workers are exposed to a vast number of environmental and mechanical hazards that can potentially be harmful to their health. 

One of these hazards is exposure to particles generated during farming operations. In recent years, studies have shown an increased in dust-related respiratory illnesses in the industry.  

Respiratory hazards are caused by dust exposure during harvesting, drilling and the handling of grain, animal feedstuffs, and mouldy hay.

They are two types of harmful dust in the agricultural workplace – organic and inorganic dust.

Organic dust consists of airborne particles from vegetal, animal and microbial origin. Activities such as harvesting, grain handling, animal feed manufacture, milling, silo cleaning are well known for their level of grain dust. Grain dust is defined as a hazardous substance by COSHH 2002 directives, and as such, the working exposure limit (WEL) is 10g/m3 or more over 8 hours. Reports show that long term exposure to grain dust can cause respiratory diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema.

Besides, organic dust, agricultural workers can also be exposed to inorganic dust depending on their activities. 

Inorganic dust stems from the mineral dust in agricultural soil rather than biological particles. Exposure to inorganic dust amongst farm workers can be significant, especially in dry-climate countries. Exposure level varies with the soil composition - quartz, sand, silica - and the task carried out. Research demonstrates that activities such as drilling, and ploughing can generate respirable dust exposure of 1-5mg/m3  with up to 20% of the particle being crystalline silica. Silica particles are so small that they are invisible to the naked eyes and can be inhaled in vast quantity without being noticed. The dust can get into the lungs and damage the lung tissues, which can cause life-threatening illnesses.

Activities that produce grain dust: 


Harvesting consists of the gathering of the season’s crops from the field and the transfer of grain from combines into trailers. On larger farms, it requires the use of heavy machinery which can produce high levels of grain dust. 

Grain Loading/Drying

The work involves the transfer of grain from trailers to silos or grain stores. The very nature of loading dry-bulk can lead to workers being exposed to airborne grain dust.

Grain Malting

With this process, cereal grains are first germinated and then dried ready for brewing, distilling or food manufacturing. Dust is one of the most common hazards in grain malting. During the process, dust can accumulate very quickly and not only affect workforce and equipment but can eventually lead to dust grain explosions.

Feed Mill Process

It consists of converting agricultural materials into fodder suitable for livestock consumption. The feed manufacturing process involves grinding and weighing the raw materials as well as bagging the finished products. Feed Mills are known for their dusty environment and exposure to airborne dust during production is a real risk as most of the raw materials are in powder forms. 

How to reduce dust hazards

Health and Safety directives require employers to protect their employees from hazards and subsequent health risks associated with dust exposure. 

Farms and agricultural companies must therefore carry out risk assessments to understand the risks associated with their operational processes and take adequate actions to prevent or control exposure to grain dust as required by COSHH Regulations 2002. 

Exposure to these airborne particles can seriously affect the workers’ health and must, therefore, be kept to a minimum to avoid occupational lung diseases. 

Precautions vary from ventilated cabs fitted with air filters during harvesting and drilling activities, to procuring respiratory and personnel protective equipment during dry-bulk loading, grain malting and feed-mill manufacturing.

For the malting process, it also means keeping working areas clean and well ventilated to reduce the amount of grain dust collecting and to prevent the risk of grain dust explosion. 

In feed mills, the manufacturing process requires the addition of feed additives which are mostly chemical compounds. Study shows that 40% of inhalable dust is respirable dust. Due to their microscopic size, these particles can reach lung tissues and seriously affect the health of the workers. Precaution such as respiratory protective equipment and ventilation must, consequently, be taken when handling these materials.

When cleaning, dedusting working area, equipment and clothing, the method should be quick, effective and safe. Using a broom or compressed air is therefore discouraged as brushing off releases dust back into the atmosphere while compressed air can be hazardous if pointed at the body.

Personnel clean-down operations at the end of a shift can be an important and successful way to reduce dust exposure and cross-contamination when entering breakrooms, or other working environments.

Is there a safer solution for removal?

The JetBlack Safety Cleaning Booths use blower-driven air and provide a highly effective and safer method for personnel clean-down than alternative compressed air systems.

The Cleaning Booth is particularly suited to removing dust from workwear. The dust is then safely extracted away from the user and collected in the HEPA H14 extractor.

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