Reduced ventilation in swine barns during the winter in an attempt to cut heating costs can increase the air hazard. Jaydee Smith, swine production program leader, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, says excessive pollutant burdens can affect animal productivity as well as human health.

The substances that contaminate air in swine barns are particles from feed and skin, building materials and gases released from animal metabolism. Each factor could create a problem environment, as there are many potential interactions between them. Considering the composition of swine barn dust and the concentrations that swine workers may be exposed to, it’s important to protect worker health by having them wear masks and respirators, Smith stresses.

Dust generally means solid particulates small enough to easily become suspended in the air and remain so for a significant period. To some extent, any material may become dust, and this accounts for the mix of dust found in confinement buildings.

Particles that are large enough to settle out quickly will be an aerial contaminant only for a short period. During feeding or when you add bedding, for example, dust can be present in very high concentrations. Workers should be aware of these situations and taught to take precautions.

Although efforts are being made to find ways to reduce dust in swine barns, for the time being it is an unavoidable fact of life. During winter, dust levels are probably at their worst, which increases the importance of workers to wear dust masks.