Cotton Dust

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.

Cotton Dust

Tab/Accordion Items

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

This respiratory protection program is available and should be customized to fit the conditions and hazards to be encountered in the workplace. An example PPE and hazard analysis 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. Other example safety and health programs are available for employers to download and adapt to their specific conditions. 

Training and Outreach Services

The respiratory protection and personal protective equipment PowerPoint presentations can be modified to meet the employer's needs. Other example safety and health programs are available for employers to download and adapt to their specific conditions. 

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).

Safety and Health Topics

More information on respirators can be found on the safety and health topic pages for respiratory protection, chemical hazards and toxic substances and personal protective equipment.

Consultation Services

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.  This is not all inclusive.

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. 

General Industry


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 Guides

Compliance Documents

Technical Assistance

Inquiries about workplace safety and health requirements can be submitted to Ask OSH through the online form, by email to, or by phone at 919-707-7876.