Cleaning up the Construction Industry

Cleaning up the Construction Industry

11th May 2015

The Construction Dust Partnership (CDP) is an industry collaboration that directly involves many organisations, including the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).  Its mission is to

“Raise awareness within the construction industry about lung diseases related to hazardous workplace dust and to promote good practice to prevent these diseases, particularly for those undertaking high risk tasks.”

Many of those who work in the construction industry here in the UK are exposed to construction dust on almost a daily basis and, although the amount breathed in each day can seem small or insignificant, it can build up in the long term and cause problems.  In some cases, the effects of exposure may be immediate, but generally it will be years before the symptoms of ill health become apparent.  This means that respiratory risks are often overlooked or underplayed when it comes to health and safety.

Exposure to airborne construction dust not only leads to respiratory illnesses, but can also result in skin diseases.  Asbestos fibres, lead dust and silica are the worst offenders and are particularly hazardous if inhaled.  The diseases they cause can be completely disabling resulting in sufferers having to change employment or give up work altogether.  In the worst cases, they lead to fatalities.

HSE statistics have revealed that up to 7,000 people here in the UK develop occupational asthma every year while a massive 4,000 people die from asbestos related diseases.  Silica related cancers are on the increase with 500 people dying from them a year and more fatalities expected in the future.  Every year in the UK more than 2.6 million working days are lost due to work related ill health.

There are three main types of construction dust:

  • Silica Dust – silica is a natural mineral that’s present in sand, sandstone and granite and it’s often found in construction material like mortar and concrete. The silica breaks down into tiny particles (known as Respirable Crystalline Silica or RCS) during cutting, drilling and grinding.
  • Non Silica Dust – This is dust from construction products that don’t contain silica – most commonly gypsum, limestone, cement, marble and dolomite.
  • Wood Dust – Wood is commonly used in construction projects and is found in two forms – hardwood and softwood. Wood-based products like MDF and chipboard will also produce wood dust when they are being worked on.

Construction workers are particularly at risk from tasks that typically create dust.  High levels of dust may be caused by any of the following:

  • Equipment – using high energy power tools like cut-off saws, grit blasters, wall chasers and grinders produce copious amounts of dust in a very short space of time.
  • Work Area – The more enclosed the workplace, the more dust will build up in the atmosphere.
  • Work Method – dry sweeping will spread the dust more, lifting it into the atmosphere. When dealing with dust a vacuum cleaner or wet brushing method should be used for clean-up operations.
  • Time – the longer you work, the more dust will be produced.

If you work on a construction project with high levels of dust, then you’ll need to take the appropriate precautions to protect yourself.  Watch this space and we’ll publish a blog post next week on just how you can keep yourself safe from construction dust.