EXPOSURE RISKS FOR ALUMINUM DUST
While the most common physical problem associated with aluminum dust is physical irritation—primarily to the skin and eyes—more serious problems have been documented. Respiratory effects include impaired lung function and fibrosis. Long-term exposure can also produce signs of cholestasis, a liver disorder. When aluminum is present in weld fumes, exposure has been associated with neurological damage and motor dysfunction.
Another major risk of aluminum dust is explosion. Aluminum dust is one of the most dangerous of the combustible dusts. When present in the air in the right particulate size and in the right combination with oxygen, this particular dust is a serious ignition hazard. Aluminum dust explosions are rated in the most extreme category of all dust explosions.
Whether aluminum’s end use is in an airplane or an antiperspirant, its dust is a serious concern for manufacturers. Workers need protection from the inhalation hazard, and facilities must be safeguarded from explosions.
REGULATIONS FOR ALUMINUM DUST
OSHA’s regulations for aluminum dust are serious but achievable. Their standard for total aluminum dust is 15 mg/m3, the same for general dust. Its standard for respirable aluminum dust, however, is a much more serious 5 mg/m3. For the record, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends limits of 15 mg/m3 and 10 mg/m3, respectively. Presently, OSHA shows no signs of adjusting its long-held standard.
As manufacturers know, failure to comply with these regulations is a serious matter. Citations can lead to fines that can pile up—sometimes reaching into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Being cited can hurt a company’s ability to recruit and retain top talent, as well.