A simulated workplace study was conducted to investigate the relation between inhalation exposure and dustiness determined with a rotating drum dustiness tester. Three powders were used in the study, i.e. magnesium stearate, representing a very dusty powder, and aluminium oxide and calcium carbonate, representing low and very low dusty powders, respectively. Two scenarios of handling small volume of powders were included; sweeping/cleaning and scooping/weighing/adding. Size-selective dust exposure was assessed using MultiDust (dual-fraction) IOM and RespiCon® sampling heads. For the present operation scenarios, dustiness showed itself to be the major determinant of exposure and explained ∼70% of the exposure variances. The ratios of respirable and inhalable fractions as determined by dustiness tests were comparable with the ratios observed for exposure. The results emphasize the relevance of dustiness as a parameter to characterize substances according to potential for exposure. © The Author 2006. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Occupational Hygiene Society.