02 June 2021

Construction dust is not just a nuisance

Construction dust is not just a nuisance – regular and long-term exposure can cause life-changing lung diseases, along with recent HSE research that has estimated that silica dust may be responsible for the deaths of over 500 people each year who have worked in construction. HSE have also estimated that around 4,000 people die every year from COPD linked to work. Construction workers are one of the at-risk groups within this because of the dust that they breathe.

There are three main types of construction dust:

  • Silica dust (also known as respirable crystalline silica or RCS) – created when working on silica-containing materials such as concrete, mortar and sandstone;
  • Wood dust – created when working on softwood, hardwood and wood-based products like MDF and plywood; an
  • Lower toxicity dusts created when working on materials containing very little or no silica. For example, gypsum (in plasterboard, for instance), limestone, marble and dolomite.

Workers on construction sites have a high risk of developing lung diseases because many common construction tasks can create high dust levels. Such activities include cutting paving blocks and kerbs, chasing concrete and raking mortar, cutting roofing tiles, grinding, soft strip demolition, dry sweeping, cutting and sanding wood and sanding plasterboard joints.

This is why it is so important to mitigate the risks some of the key points are listed below

  • Assess the risks associated with the work and the materials and recognize that high dust levels can be caused by one or more of the following factors: – Task – the more energy the work requires, the greater the risk. High-energy tools such as cutting saws, grinders and grit emitters produce a lot of dust in a very short time. – Workspace – the narrower a room is, the more dust forms. However, do not assume that the dust concentration is low when working outdoors with high-energy tools. – Time – the longer the work takes, the more dust there will be; and – frequency – the regular performance of the same work day after day increases the risks.
  • Control the risks by looking for ways to stop or reduce the amount of dust you may generate before you start work. Consider using other materials, less powerful tools or other working methods. For example, you could use: – pre-cut construction materials so that less cutting or preparation is required; – silica-free abrasives to reduce the risks of blasting; – a less powerful tool – such as a block splitter instead of a cutting saw; – a completely different way of working – such as a direct fastening system.
  • Prevent the dust from entering the air, for example by water suppression and / or suction on the equipment. – Water helps by dampening clouds of dust. It is important to ensure that there is sufficient water at the right levels for the period of time during which the work is being carried out. Simply wetting the material beforehand does not work. – When suction is carried out on the tool, dust is removed right from the start. It is a kind of local exhaust air LEV system that fits directly on the tool and consists of exhaust hood, suction and hoses / ducts as well as a suitably built-in filter. A general commercial vacuum is not appropriate.
  •  Provide PPE respiratory equipment as a last line of protection. Water or tool suction may not always be adequate or do not reduce exposure sufficiently, so respiratory protection often needs to be provided. You must ensure that RPE: – is adequate for the amount and type of dust and has an appropriate protection factor APF. The general value for construction dust is APF 20; – suitable for work; – compatible with other protective equipment; – an appropriate fit for the user. Fit checks are required for close-fitting facial pieces; if worn correctly, those who use close-fitting facial pieces must also be clean shaven.
  • Take other control measures to prevent construction dust from spreading beyond the immediate area where it is produced. For example, you should: – Limit the number of people near the work that generates dust. – Consider getting workers to rotate with others on tasks that expose them to dust. – Close the work area to prevent dust from escaping to adjacent areas. – Install general mechanical ventilation to remove dusty air from the work area. – Choose workwear that does not hold the dust and make sure that workers change and wash before entering the areas where food and drink is consumed and when leaving the site. – Make sure that workers receive training on dust risks so that they know how dust can damage their health, how to properly apply dust checks, equipment, including RPE and other personal protective equipment, and what to do if something goes wrong.
  • Review of controls – There is no point in putting in place the right controls if they do not function properly, that is, introducing procedures and systems such as worker monitoring to ensure that the work is carried out in the right way.
  •  Involve workers in assessments and reviews so that they can help identify problems and solutions.
  • Have the equipment, including all on-tool extraction systems, thoroughly inspected and tested at appropriate intervals at least every 14 months.
  •  Setting up arrangements for cleaning, storage and maintenance of disposable RPE, replacement of PPE filters in accordance with manufacturer and / or supplier instructions. Disposable masks must be replaced in accordance with manufacturer recommendations.
  • Establishment of a health monitoring program including monitoring of dust pollution and, where appropriate, consultation with an occupational health professional.

Its not just the human factor, Construction dust can also have large implications environmentally. We recommend contractors consider the option of purchasing  Environmental Impairment Liability insurance.

To find out more contact us today

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