Data Monitoring: The Key to Success in Minimising Exposure to Dust

Data Monitoring: The Key to Success in Minimising Exposure to Dust

Data Monitoring: The Key to Success in Minimising Exposure to Dust

August 31, 2021 (Photo updated October 19, 2023)

Remote data monitoring is the way forward for site operations—real-time warnings and long-range data to review help set risk management plans to prevent lung disease.  Having fully automatic data logging and alerting removes many opportunities for human error and is cost-effective in the long term. Access to this data provides convenient visibility and allows managers to make informed decisions to increase safety and productivity in the workplace.

Monitor System Performance

The greatest asset of a risk management plan is to have actual proof that an installed system is performing as designed; to the required level and outcome.

Long-term data log values assist in evaluating the gains in performance. Data on the filter’s efficiency and potential events leading to exposure risks helps evaluate the installed filtration system. If there are many exposure events or the filter is filling quickly, it allows maintenance extra access to understanding where performance hindering lies. However, if performance is recorded as being successful and efficient, it can justify the costs of the filtration system and allow calculations of value provided.

The performance gains are significant when utilising innovative technology such as the extended service cycle of brushless motors and filtering the correct volume of fresh air. BreatheSafe High Pressure Air Filtration systems automatically control these important performance aspects and record data for downloading to ensure optimal performance.

Real time data monitoring graph from INPRESS TS of pressure change over time to minimise exposure of dust

Monitor Operator Training Effectiveness

The most crucial factor is keeping the working environment clean and free from airborne particulate matter, which can only be achieved with operator involvement.

Training must be part of the respirable dust risk management plan to engage operators. Training requires measures that must be encouraged and kept, such as always keeping doors and windows closed. Minimising and controlling all potential events that can introduce contamination inside the cabin with respirable particulate.

By recording the number of events and the reason behind the event, supervisors can identify individuals requiring further training or finding areas of improvement in the training program. 

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OEM cabin filters were not designed to stop respirable dust

OEM cabin filters were not designed to stop respirable dust

OEM cabin filters were not designed to stop respirable dust

June 06, 2021

*OEM filter media is not designed to mitigate respirable dust.

Dust inside OEM airway immediately AFTER filter.

Fine dust contamination is the main reason for air conditioning-HVAC system underperformance and premature failures. Dust wears out electrical components quickly while dust accumulation inside the system restricts airflow increasing the entire system heat load.

This is due in part to the inefficacy of OEM filters and the harsh and dusty conditions at mine, quarry and construction sites

The design of the original HVAC system by the manufacturer is intended to deliver cooling capacity overall and may not be designed to perform in extremely dusty environments or to be effective at removing smaller fine dust.

The OEM filters are normally intended to filter out coarse dust but not hazardous respirable particulate.

OEM filter from a Volvo EC480 and a CAT 972H

OEM filter from a Volvo EC480 and a CAT 972H

For instance, if HEPA filters were to be retrofitted to an original system, the end result is a system that may not be capable to cool down the cabin from higher air restriction of HEPA filters. The best practice is to use a multitude of controls combined with an environmental cabin (tight against particulate) that is precisely designed with fresh air pressurisation with HEPA filters to control respirable dust.

The BreatheSafe design is a custom system that regulates the correct volume of fresh air delivered to the air conditioning- HVAC system. Thus, minimise the amount of hot ambient air being blown into the cabin – reducing the heat load on the HVAC. The system can effectively keep the operator comfortable even in very hot and humid conditions.

The worst scenario is an air conditioning-HVAC system that is not effective at cooling the working environment leading to unsafe practices such as the operator opening a window for ventilation risking high exposures and allowing the cabin to be contaminated with respirable dust. This situation is hazardous because once respirable dust is inside the cabin; it will continue to be recirculated by the air conditioning system.

This BreatheSafe system has been installed with HEPA primary and HEPA return air filter for equipment working at a cement shed with 8000 hours of operation. It has kept the cabin clean and it has kept the internal HVAC components clean and dust-free.

*Some OEM’s offer a HEPA option.

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Silica (RCS) is twenty times more toxic than coal dust

Silica (RCS) is twenty times more toxic than coal dust

SILICA (RCS) respirable crystalline silica

Respirable mine dust in high concentrations cause lung disease due to overloading the defences of the respiratory system as particles start to deposit in the lung.

Silica airborne particles are 20 times more toxic to the lungs than coal dust alone; nevertheless, Silicosis is the world’s oldest known occupational disease. Workers who are exposed and inhale invisible Silica (RCS) particles are at increased risk of developing serious – and often deadly – silica related disease.

In the United States the Mines Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has introduced a new rule that has lowered the concentration limit for respirable coal dust from 2.0 mg/m³ to 1.5 mg/m³.In regard to Silica the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) new rule has been brought in and is expected that MSHA will follow suit. The new limit from OSHA’s new rule cuts the permissible exposure limit (PEL) in half from 100 to 50 micrograms (as an 8-hour time weighed average)

HEPA filtration system is effective at controlling respirable dust exposure as long as the operator remains inside.

The health risks associated with exposure to RCS can be controlled with the use of effective systems installed in environmental cabin/enclosures to isolate workers. Respirable crystalline silica (RCS) is one of major issues brought to the attention of the Queensland Parliament – Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis Select Committee Inquiry. The select committee will be looking at evidence of silica exposures of Brisbane’s tunnel workers.

“Silica is probably more dangerous than coalmine dust. We talked about the toxicities earlier. Quarriers, tunnelers, metal miners—anyone who is disturbing the earth’s crust and drilling through rock is at risk for quartz and silica exposure. There should be industrial hygiene monitoring of the exposure levels. We just lowered our exposure level to silica from 0.1 milligram per metre cubed to 50 micrograms or 0.05 milligrams per metre cubed because of the horrendous diseases that occur from silica.

Aside from the diseases we have already talked about for coalmine dust, silica is actually a lung carcinogen. It is an International Agency for Research on Cancer, IRAC, class 1 human carcinogen. It causes renal disease and causes other autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and other things.”

Dr Cohen

To mitigate exposure to respirable dust a multitude of controls must be used. Then it should follow that fresh air pressurisation systems should be installed with HEPA filters in a two-stage setup: primary and return air stages to filter outside fresh air and also to filter the air that is inside the enclosure to same HEPA standard.

This process maintains the HVAC system dust free thus extending the lifecycle of the system and maintains the cooling capacity by avoiding air restrictions caused by dust contamination. These aspects must be considered, as it will result in costs reduction over the service life of the system. Specifically, reduce the overall costs of servicing & repairs of the HVAC system due to dust ingress contamination.

Finally, Its widely known and common practice that respirable fibres (Asbestos) must be removed using HEPA vacuum cleaners. The same principle applies in controlling respirable particulate inside the cabin.

Find out more about HEPA fresh air pressurisation technical guide.

The Invisible Risks of Fine Dust

The Invisible Risks of Fine Dust

The hidden risk factors from fine dust that impacts on the health and safety of operators.

The real issue is respirable dust (particulate) inside the breathing zone and the emphasis must be to prevent disease for the entire working life of operators. It is invisible to the human eye but it is found whenever extracted and processed minerals have been crushed, milled, screened, blasted, drilled, shovelled and conveyed.

Fine Dust Definition: “Dust of less than 10 microns which is capable of penetrating deep into the alveoli”

BSEN 481

The Task

Mining machines operate 24/7 in hot, dirty, dust-laden environments. Keeping the operator’s environment safe and healthy is an extreme task for equipment designers and maintenance crews.

In effect, the installed air quality (filtration) system is an essential component of a well-designed operator cabin. Environmentally controlled cabins reduce exponentially operator exposure to harmful particulates such as respirable crystalline silica, aerosols, particulate matter and other airborne contaminants or toxic gases.

The Risk

The very same respiratory hazards of fine airborne dust causes that shorten the life of air conditioning systems and other electrical equipment.

Dust exposure causes irritation and inflammation of the eyes and worsens pre-existing conditions. It has a drying effect with skin contact that can result in dermatitis. Prolonged exposure to fine dust results in increased nasal and respiratory conditions such as coughing. The result of high and prolonged exposure leads to inflammation of the lining tissue of the respiratory system with further complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Respirable dust (diameter <5 micron) is suspended in air that can travel to the deep tissue of the lung and pass through to blood stream associated with higher risks to health.

The Solution

The mitigation process is a multi-level approach with dust separation techniques with well-designed engineering controls.

There is evidence available to recommend BreatheSafe technology which can protect workers in situations where they are exposed to several respirable hazards from low to high exposure concentrations at their working environment in mineral processing sites, construction sites, waste and landfills and agricultural settings.

The methods to isolate and protect a worker are:

  1. Integrated system The ecosystem BEGINS with a sealed (environmental) cabin with fresh air pressuriser in a climate controlled environment (HVAC). With the following features: HEPA filtration, auto pressure control, digital display with alerts and warning, remote monitoring, brushless long life pressuriser motor.
  2. HEPA filtration The system to control respirable dust / particulate matter with a two-stage high efficiency filter media (Fresh air & return air filtration)
  3. Remote monitoring / on board display Management of data to analyse and review internal environmental conditions and operator awareness/alerts that the system is working.
Positive Pressure in Operator Cabins Not Enough

Positive Pressure in Operator Cabins Not Enough

 After conducting research and testing, BreatheSafe proposes a real-time dust monitoring study to evaluate the effectiveness of operator cabins working at mineral processing sites. This study focuses on bulldozers, front end loaders, and haul trucks. BreatheSafe evaluated that in order to keep cabin air safe with zero exposure, pressurisation of air was not enough. 

Demonstration of different sizes compared to a human hair at 50 - 70 microns in diameter.


The belief that a machine cabin serves as a primary method for dust control needs to be reviewed. The risks associated with coal dust and silica dust exposure are now widely understood. Furthermore, there is scientific evidence which describes current worker exposure limits to low toxicity clouds of dust are not sufficiently protective. 

An environmental cab must control the air inside. It must be pressurised to keep outside dust from entering through cracks in the window and door. The pressurised air must be filtered to keep out dust-laden air from entering the cabin. To limit the volume of air needed for pressurisation, doors and windows must be sealed.

However, there is no standard or guidance on the actual efficiency of the filters. In fact, there is no real protection for operators regarding hazardous substances below PM10. Established research demonstrates particulate matter below PM10 can reach the deep tissue in the lungs.

The latest calls from health organisations is for silica dust to be undetectable within the breathing zone of the operator. The same must apply for all other airborne hazardous substances that are present at mineral processing sites.

Essentially, a cabin by itself can no longer be assumed to resolve these problems and could be in some instances be more harmful to the operator. The goal for any solution is to provide a Zero Harm environment, and this requires more than cab pressurisation.

Types of controls

ISO 10263

The standard for machinery sold in Australia has been ISO 10263. This standard provides for 50 pascals of positive pressure when the cabin is new, with a minimum of 25 cfm airflow intake into the cab. To achieve this design standard, the cab is equipped with a filtered fresh air intake system and a filtered recirculating system and an air conditioner.

The cabin is sealed by rubber gaskets, tight latches and jambs which are placed on windows and doors. The typical volume of a cab is approximately two to three cubic meters and utilizes pleated cellulose media.

OEM paper filters do not provide any protection for respirable dust, allowing PM10 pollution to enter unhindered.

This standard is fundamentally applicable to provide airflow to aid the air conditioning system. Other issues arise when both intake and recirculation airflow are powered by the same fan, changing a filter(s) media without correcting the resistance on the system will lead to cabin pressure loss.

Furthermore, this type of environmental cab deteriorates quickly due to fine dust ingress. Therefore, will become ineffective requiring a retrofit for effective fine dust particle separation.


This standard refers to the control of hazardous airborne substances for the protection of the operator in tractor sprayers (pesticides). This standard states an environmental cabin must be tightly sealed and provide greater than 99% efficiency for the fresh air filter.

Fundamentally, the minimum requirement of EN15695-3 is tested and certified filter media to EN1822 (HEPA H13) which guarantees air filtration down to 0.3 microns.

High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters are made from randomly arranged glass fibres thus airflow will be highly restrictive. These cannot be easily adapted for replacing OEM paper filters.

Breathe Safe INPRESS TLProducts – BreatheSafe (

The INPRESS TL system that has been developed and tested for mine sites to succeed EN15695-3. It uses dual HEPA filters rated to minimum 99.97% efficiency with Auto Cabin Pressure Control (ACPC). It also includes a digital display that alerts the operator when there is a low-pressure event. The next issue is cabin sealing to effectively isolate the air conditioning system and to also isolate the operator.

This system has been designed for coal mines to provide a Safe Breathing Zone for the operator. 

The cabin pressure setting can range from 20 to 100 pascals depending on the specific on-site requirements. Studies can be conducted to calculate dust load for a specific machine with remote monitoring.

Infographic for INPRESS TL system and how it works maintaining positive operator pressure and beyond. The INPRESS TL Cabin Pressuriser is mounted outside the cabin and clean the air with HEPA H13 filter. The Return Air Filter (RAF) isolates HVAC system and thrusts air out of vents creating safe breathing zone SBZ

Latest Guidance from Safe Work QLD (PN12377)

The following excerpt has been released form Worksafe Queensland for “Managing Respirable Dust Hazards in Coal-fired Power Stations for the Code of Practice 2018″

Isolation, segregation or enclosure of operations generating the dust

Relevant isolation controls include:

-Enclosed cabins with windows closed at all times

Fitting high-efficiency air filtering systems (e.g. HEPA filters) to the intake and cabin recirculation air intake of front-end loaders, excavators and other machinery

-Keeping personnel vehicles dust sealed and pressurised.

We submit that a process of auditing of the cabin is included testing cabin sealing periodically and periodic testing with real-time dust monitoring instruments.

We also submit that machinery cabins be cleaned with a type H (HEPA) vacuum and never with brushes/brooms.  

Methods of Evaluation


The latest technical support by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is to audit a cabin and/or the operator with a real-time dust monitor and a portable camera. This indicates events for high peak exposures that have occurred consequently prevent future events.