Cotton dust is the dust present in the air during the handling and processing of cotton. Dust from raw cotton may contain a mixture of substances including ground up plant matter, bacteria, fungi, pesticides and other contaminants.
What are the hazards associated with cotton dust?
The principal hazard associated with cotton dust is byssinosis ("brown lung disease"). The onset of byssinosis is characterized by a feeling chest tightness and shortness of breath on the first day of work after a weekend or holiday. As exposure to the causative dust continues, these symptoms persist throughout the week, and in advanced stages, byssinosis causes chronic, irreversible obstructive lung disease. Although exposure to cotton dust is by the most common cause, other fibers like flax and hemp can also produce byssinosis.
An additional hazard exists where, due to inadequate ventilation and housekeeping practices, cotton dust is permitted to accumulate on surfaces. Excessive build up of cotton dust, a type of combustible dust, could result in fires and explosions when conditions are present leading to extensive property damage and physical injury or death.
What can I do to protect myself?
Workers in textile operations where cotton is used must be medically evaluated for the presence of byssinosis. When equipment is cleaned using compressed air ("blow down" or "blow off"), nonessential employees must leave the area. Those employees who are required to perform this operation, must be provided with respirators in accordance with an effective respiratory protection program.
What resources are available to assist employers?
Safety and Health Programs
Example respiratory protection programs are available which should be customized to fit the conditions and hazards to be encountered in the workplace. An example PPE hazard assessment is also available for customization to fit workplace conditions. Employers are required to perform a workplace hazard analysis to determine what personal protective equipment is necessary to protect employees from continued exposure to identified hazards.
Training and Outreach Services
In addition, the education, training and technical assistance bureau provides free online safety and health training and outreach services (i.e., speaker's bureau requests, safety booths) upon request.
Lastly, the NCDOL Library offers free safety and health videos (including streaming video services) and related research assistance on consensus standards (i.e., ANSI, NFPA, NEC).
A-Z Safety and Health Topics
The consultative services bureau provides free and confidential onsite consultation regarding worksite safety and health hazards.
Which standards apply?
OSH has adopted the following standards which are applicable to cotton dust in North Carolina. Note: Please also check the standards information and activity webpage to see if there has been any recent or upcoming regulatory activity on this topic.
Other Applicable Standards
The Which OSHA Standards Apply webpage can also help identify other standards that may be applicable to your worksite.
Where can I learn more?
Industry Guide 49—OSHA General Industry Standards Requiring Programs, Inspections, Procedures, Records and/or Training provides requirements for standards related to occupational exposure to cotton dust in general industry.
Compliance Directive: CPL 02-02-031, Cotton Dust Manual, establishes an inspection and enforcement policy and provides an explanation of the cotton dust standard to ensure uniform enforcement.
Operational Procedure Notice: OPN 127, Respirator Use Policy Under the Cotton Dust Standard, establishes a uniform enforcement policy for the use of respirators during novel work shifts.
If you would like to receive interpretive guidance on this or any other OSH standard or topic, you can submit your questions using the Ask OSH web form, by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 919-707-7876.