A colleague from another University showed me this neat way to load silica into a column without breathing any of it in.
Get a new 500 mL acetone squirt bottle, cut the top off and use a small rubber septum for the lid. Then fill it with silica and label the bottle. When dispensing into a column, the lid makes a seal which prevents airborne particles from escaping. Put the lid back on loosely as you turn the container upright to prevent a small puff of silica into the air.