Grain dust: An underrated health risk

Grain dust: An underrated health risk
Loading barge with a crop of wheat grain.

By Haldimand Press Staff

One of the most underrated health risks in the agricultural industry comes from long-term exposure to grain dust.

Grain dust is produced from the harvesting, drying, handling, storing, and processing of grains like wheat, oats, maize, and rye. In addition to particles of grain, the dust contains contaminants such as bacteria, fungal spores, insect debris, animal droppings, and pesticide residues.

Agricultural processes that produce grain dust include: harvesting grain, moving grain from combines to grain trucks, moving grain from trucks into silos and grain bins, moving grain around in silos and grain bins, feeding livestock milled grain, and cleaning grain and grain bins.

Effects of inhaling grain dust

Breathing in too much grain dust while working on farms has both immediate and long-term effects. In the short term, it can cause workers to experience fatigue and shortness of breath. Long-term exposure can result in symptoms like congestion, coughing and wheezing, and frequent respiratory infections such as colds, bronchitis, and pneumonia. Over time, exposure to grain dust can lead to serious respiratory illnesses such as farmer’s lung, asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis.

Minimizing the risks

If you work in an environment where you’re exposed to grain dust, you can take steps to reduce your risk of developing a respiratory disease. Above all, make sure to wear the proper respiratory protective equipment for the job you’re performing and inform your supervisor if you’re having trouble with your equipment. You should also stay  informed about the risks of dust-related illnesses and take the time to train employees about what they can do to stay safe while working with grain.

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