LEAD Action News

LEAD Action News vol 7 no 2, 1999, ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)
The journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.

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WorkCover Advice for Ceiling Dust Removalists

By Elizabeth O'Brien, Coordinator, The LEAD Group,
and Manager, Lead Advisory Service (NSW)

See: Guidance Note For Ceiling Dusts Containing Lead by NSW WorkCover

In May 1998, I asked Dr Cullen, Occupational Medicine Section of WorkCover NSW for advice for ceiling dust contractors. In June 1999 I wanted to check whether any of the advice I had written down from the call, might have changed and was told that Dr Cullen was no longer at WorkCover. John Devine of the PPE Unit of WorkCover provided some extra information on respirators (marked by a frame) and Dr Kenyon read the notes I had made from Dr Cullenís advice and made some deletions and also changed some points (which I have marked with an asterisk) in the following advice. Comments in square brackets are mine.

"The ceiling dust contractor has to:-

  • wear a dust respirator all the time (the respirator only works if there is no beard or moustache) and a cloth cap (cotton engineer's beret) on his head, for the dust;

  • Wear gloves and a boiler-suit, as some of the components of ceiling dust may be absorbed through the skin;

  • Wash his clothes separately *

  • Have a shower at the end of the day; include washing the face and * hair;

"The ceiling dust contractor can come into WorkCover to talk to an occupational hygienist, as he has various health risks if exposed to the dust:-

  • Ceiling dust can contain the remains of up to 64 pests known to live in roof voids, including birds that can cause pigeon fancier's lung.

  • Ceiling dust is likely to contain fungus that also produces bronchial hyperactivity. Once you have bronchial hyperactivity it doesn't take much dust to produce symptoms [such as coughing and wheezing]. * Some fungi are chemical sensitisers but these fungi may not occur in ceiling dust.

  • * Dr Kenyon said the silica level in the ceiling dust would be of concern and exposure to silica is covered by other regulations [For example, according to the WorkCover factsheet A Guide to Dust Hazards (March 1995) "Regulation 95A of the Construction Safety Act Regulations which sets out procedures for dust control during building work and construction work. It includes a requirement that drilling, picking, scabbling, cutting and ripping equipment must be fitted with dust suppression or dust control devices when used on silica-containing materials."]

  • Breathing lots of dust causes * industrial asthma, depending on what is in the dust, eg animal dander proteins. Ceiling dust may exacerbate asthma or precipitate an asthma attack.

  • A person may have one or both of 2 types of breathing problems * :-

  1. Restrictive: * the vital capacity of the lungs is decreased by high exposure for long periods to, for instance silica or asbestos.

  2. Obstructive: * trouble getting the air in:- e.g. asthma - broncho-constriction of the intermediate airways. An asthmatic reaction may occur instantly.

  • The risk of getting cancer from house dust is very low [though no evidence for this contention was provided].

"If the contractor has reason to be concerned about his respiratory health, then he should:-

  • Go to a GP. The GP can carry out a simple test on his respiratory function - * most doctors will do spirometry (measurement of lung function) - and refer him to a respiratory specialist if necessary.

  • Alternatively, the doctor at the Workers Health Centre at Granville, Sydney (phone 02 9897 2466) could see the worker or make the appropriate referral.

"If the worker has only been in the ceiling dust industry for a short time, then his respiratory problems may be completely reversible or mostly reversible. After the use of maximum respiratory protection, any bronchial hyperactivity or asthma should come a long way back towards normal lung function.

"If workers compensation is being paid for the contractor then he can claim occupational disease. If he is employed by his own company and is not privately insured, then he can claim lost work time for medical investigations. If he just owns and runs his own company and is not privately insured, then he can't claim anything 

See: Guidance Note For Ceiling Dusts Containing Lead by NSW WorkCover

Advice about personal protection from WorkCover PPE Unit

WorkCover NSW and its predecessors have operated an approval system for respirators for the last 30 years. Not all of the respirators available in hardware stores are approved, and not all of them meet the requirements of the Australian Standard.

The PPE Unit of WorkCover is willing and able to offer advice regarding the selection, care and use of respirators, including which ones have been tested and approved. Londonderry: Phone (02) 4724 4900, Fax (02) 4724 4999.

Another authoritative source of information regarding respirators is the Australian Standard AS/NZS 1716-1994. " The Selection, Care and Use of Respirators". It is quite possible to have a device that meets the requirements of AS/NZS 1716, but not be protected adequately, because you have not selected the appropriate device.

"Thirty Thought-Starters on Ceiling Void Dust in Homes" mentions the use of disposable overalls, whereas the tips received from WorkCover Occupational Medicine Section says "boiler suit". In my opinion, a normal cotton boiler suit is not as satisfactory, as it has pockets and other places where contamination can collect, including direct hand holes which allow access through the boiler suit to trouser pockets underneath. Therefore the disposable protective clothing is a better solution.

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Last Updated 08 October 2011
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