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May 20, 2024

Industrial Hygiene and Safety Assessment: Inhalable Particulate Matter

Manufacturing processes in the dry bulk industry are often accompanied by a persistent challenge: dust. The constant handling of raw materials, from loading and unloading to packaging, leads to the creation of fine particulate matter. Dust control has become increasingly crucial, not only to meet stringent government regulations but also to ensure the safety and well-being of employees.


The pressure is mounting from multiple directions. Regulatory bodies like OSHA and state-specific agencies such as the California Air Resources Board have imposed rigorous standards to minimize workplace hazards. Beyond compliance, companies are more committed than ever to providing a safe working environment. Employees exposed to dust risk respiratory issues, skin irritation, and other health complications, reinforcing the need for improved industrial hygiene practices.


This article aims to guide process engineers and safety management personnel in identifying and implementing strategies to enhance operational safety while optimizing production—the two are not mutually exclusive! 


What is Inhalable Particulate Matter?

Inhalable particulate matter refers to particles small enough to be inhaled into the respiratory system. These particles can originate from various dry materials, including dust from raw materials, powders, and bulk solids. In industries where dry bulk material is handled, these particles can pose serious health risks to workers, leading to respiratory issues and other complications.


Do You Have Inhalation Hazards Present?

Here are some examples of inhalable particulate matter: 

  • Dust: Generated from materials like sand, soil, and other fine particles in industrial settings.
  • Metals: Powder metal for additive manufacturing or scrap particles from metalworking, welding, or grinding processes.
  • Fibers: From materials such as asbestos, fiberglass, or other fibrous substances.
  • Combustion Byproducts: Soot, ash, or smoke from burning fuels, wood, or coal.
  • Chemical Aerosols: Mist or droplets from chemical sprays or cleaning agents.
  • Organic Particles: Pollen, spores, or fine plant debris.


If your facility handles any dry bulk material, it’s safe to assume that it poses an inhalation risk for your team. 


Navigating Regulations and Standards

To ensure workplace safety, it’s crucial to comply with established regulations and standards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets guidelines for permissible exposure limits (PELs) for various substances, including particulate matter. These guidelines help protect workers from excessive exposure to harmful particles.


However, another key player is the California Air Resources Board (CARB) — a leading force in setting and enforcing air quality standards, with a focus on reducing airborne pollutants and ensuring workplace safety in industries handling dry bulk materials. Their efforts have gained national recognition, with other states and federal agencies often looking to California for best practices and progressive regulations.


CARB’s approach to air quality is comprehensive, addressing various sources of particulate matter and setting strict limits on emissions. Here’s how the CARB is pushing the needle in dry bulk material safety:


  • Stricter Emission Standards: CARB has implemented some of the most stringent emission standards in the United States, focusing on controlling pollutants such as particulate matter from industrial sources. This includes emissions from machinery, transportation, and bulk material handling.
  • Regulation of Industrial Processes: CARB closely monitors industries that generate dust and particulate matter. They require companies to use best practices for dust control, such as dust suppression systems, enclosed handling, and regular monitoring of air quality.
  • Promoting Clean Technologies: The board encourages the adoption of cleaner technologies in manufacturing and material handling processes. This includes promoting bulk bag systems like FIBC bags, which significantly reduce dust generation compared to traditional methods like 50 lb bags.
  • Collaboration with Industry Experts: CARB works closely with industry experts, health professionals, and environmental groups to develop regulations and guidelines that effectively address industrial hygiene challenges. This collaborative approach ensures that regulations are not only strict but also practical and achievable for businesses.
  • Compliance and Enforcement: The CARB has robust mechanisms to ensure compliance, including regular inspections, audits, and penalties for non-compliance. Companies operating in California must adhere to these guidelines or face significant fines and operational shutdowns.


The work of the California Air Resources Board has made it a leader in setting standards for dry bulk material safety. By focusing on emission controls, promoting cleaner technologies, and enforcing compliance, CARB is shaping the way industries approach dust control and industrial hygiene. Companies looking to improve their practices can take cues from CARB’s approach, aligning with their standards to ensure a safer workplace and reduce environmental impact.


Strategies for Assessment and Management

Assessing the risk of inhalable particulate matter in your own facility requires a comprehensive approach. Start by evaluating your current bulk handling practices to determine if they pose risks to your team. Consider the differences between traditional 50lb bags and bulk bag handling systems like FIBC (Flexible Intermediate Bulk Containers) bags. While 50lb bags are common, they often generate more dust during the manual dumping process, increasing the risk of inhalable particulate matter exposure — even if you have the most advanced dust control systems installed around the dump station. Figure 1 shows an example of a dusty bag dumping station.

Figure 1. Dusty bag dumping station


The best way to minimize inhalation hazard is to limit airborne dust in the first place. Bulk bags or Super Sacks make this possible by eliminating the traditional dump station, and instead use a sealed environment that automatically feeds the material from the bulk bag to your manufacturing process. In other words, these bulk bags offer a more controlled handling method that reduces the generation of dust and lowering the risk for your workforce and significantly impacting the overall industrial hygiene of your operation. Figure 2 shows an example of the DUSTFLO dust collector, a sealed dust control unit on a bulk unloading system.


Figure 2.  DUSTFLO Contained Dust Control System


Featured Case Study: Nickel Powder

Dust control is especially critical when working with carcinogenic material. Nickel powder is a prime example. Nickel powder is used in creating plastic pellets primarily in the context of specialized applications where enhanced properties are required, such as heavy service automotive, aerospace, or industrial applications. Adding nickel during the pelletizing process makes polymers electrically conductive and resistant to high temperatures.


We worked with a material processor that handles nickel powder in this use case. The challenge is that handling a large volume of metal powder poses serious risk to workers because it can easily become aerosolized and is highly carcinogenic. Our engineering team partnered with the customer’s engineering team to design a fully contained bulk handling system with indexed entry doors for loading bulk bags and IBC’s, integrated dust collector, a positive seal between bag outlet and IBC, and a vacuum system for bag cleanout after transfer. The system we designed, shown in Figure 3, integrated seamlessly with existing production processes to create a fully contained and automated system that improved productivity and environmental safety for the facility workers.


To learn more about industrial hygiene and dust control, check out this article on reducing exposure and industry compliance


Figure 3.  Dust containment system used for a nickel


Additional Benefits of Bulk Bag Packaging Solutions

Beyond the safety improvements related to inhalable particulate matter, bulk bags offer additional benefits as industrial packaging solutions. For example, they improve ergonomics by reducing manual handling and lifting, leading to better team morale and lower risk of injuries. Bulk bags also streamline material handling processes, resulting in greater productivity and better labor utilization. To learn more about the benefits of bulk bags, check out this article on increasing operational efficiency


What to Look for in a Bulk Bag Supplier

Choosing the right bulk bag supplier is critical for finding the right equipment for the material you handle. Every material type flows and behaves differently, and the bulk handling equipment you choose can either hinder or improve your operational efficiency. At FormPak, we’re not only bulk handling equipment experts, but we have extensive knowledge of hundreds of materials. We partner with manufacturing process engineers and safety management personnel to design customized systems that improve material flow and keep your workers safe. 

For a free drawing and more information on our dry bulk handling systems for your operation, reach out to our team.