Safe Driving in the Dust
Dust is generated by the wind blowing over loose topsoil or sand, picking up so much material that visibility is seriously reduced or by vehicles travelling at speed across it.
There are numerous occupational safety, health and environmental hazards and associated risks pertaining to or as a result of dust for drivers and operators of vehicles. Several controls have been developed and implemented over the years to mitigate exposure and limit the effect thereof on drivers, and occupants and to safeguard equipment when in use.
The main risk is impeded visibility and a significant reduction in safety levels. In severe cases, it can lead to deadly conditions for all road users. Apart from dust, loose gravel and pebbles also pose a risk. Flying debris (stones) is a hazard to be aware of, especially if you don't want to lose a headlight at night or windshield. Typical conditions are most prevalent in isolated areas. In the workplace, it is common i.e. mining pits.
When operating any vehicle in too much dust/sand air filters can become clogged and result in overheated engines and air starvation. Over a prolonged period, dust can clog cabin filters and reduce safe oxygen levels for vehicle inhabitants.
The best prevention is not to drive in dusty conditions, but if there is no alternative, do not open the windows of the car/cabin whilst driving/operating a vehicle, as dust can be very harmful to your health. The best is to keep it closed and if air-conditioned set it at low speed.
Some mitigation measures to improve your safety and health
The following were found to be very useful:
- Via engineering control - regular maintenance of vehicles - greasing, unclogging of air/cabin filters, replacing broken windscreens, head/fog lights and indicators.
- Reduce speed - reduction by 50% can result in a 65% of dust reduction for others and improve vehicle handling.
- Drive as far as possible on the left-hand side of the road and especially around bends/curves (left-hand driving countries)
- Close all windows and turn your vehicle’s ventilation system to recirculated air.
- Drive with lights on to improve your visibility and hazard lights in hazardous conditions
Control Measures and Dust Suppression
Dust control measures that can be applied to assist in the reduction of dust and dust suppression
- Watering of roads - depending on atmospheric conditions its effectiveness can be of a very short period. In SA an arid country is also problematic.
- Gravelling of roads - will lessen the dust but increase flying stone risk. Mixing aggregated with a binding medium can prolong the life thereof.
- Increase soil moisture content by adding deliquescent salts (i.e. calcium chloride or magnesium chloride). It increases the moisture level by attracting water. Become hazardous during rain thou.
- Binding of road surface with petroleum-based material i.e. asphalt. Organic non-petroleum dust suppressants such as diluted molasses - are found at sugar mills, etc.
- Paving or use of impermeable material - very costly, but highly effective - Golden highway in SA comes to mind.
A word of appreciation to Johan Rheeder - Technical Manager at Safetycloud Auditing.
The Health Risks of Exposure to Dust