Defeating the Dust in the Construction Industry
Last week we published a blog post on the dangers of construction dust to those who work within the industry. The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has revealed that up to 7,000 people annually develop occupational asthma and more than 4,000 people die from asbestos related diseases. Alarmingly, there’s been an increase in silica related cancers, with 500 fatalities a year and this is set to rise in the future. These figures show just how imperative it is that dust is taken seriously as a risk and we’re now going to give you some tips on how you can protect yourself from construction dust whilst at work.
As we said last week, there are three main types of construction dust: silica dust, non silica dust and wood dust. Anybody who breathes in these dusts is at risk of damage to the lungs and airways. The main dust related diseases are:
- Lung Cancer
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
While silicosis and asthma can present quite quickly, most of these diseases take a long time to develop. This means that dust can build up in the lungs gradually over time and the effects are not immediately obvious. By the time the effects begin to be noticed, the damage is already done and may result in permanent disability or death. Construction workers in particular are at high risk of developing these diseases so taking adequate precautionary measures is essential.
Controlling the Dust
There are effective ways of limiting the amount of dust generated whilst working such as:
- Using the right size of building materials where possible so that less cutting and preparation is necessary
- Using less powerful tools (for example a block splitter can often be used instead of a cut-off saw)
- Using a different method of work (for example using a nail gun to fasten cable trays instead of drilling holes)
- Using water to dampen down dust clouds – this means that enough water must be applied at the right levels for the whole time that the work is being done. Just wetting the materials beforehand is not effective.
- On-tool extraction removes the dust as it is being produced with a local exhaust ventilation (LEV) system that fits directly on to the tool being used.
Using the right type of respiratory protection (RPE) is essential. You will need to make sure that the RPE is:
- Suitable for the work being undertaken – disposable masks or half masks are often uncomfortable, especially when worn for long periods. Powered RPE helps to minimise the discomfort.
- Adequate for the amount and type of dust being produced – RPE has an assigned protection factor (APF) which shows how much protection it offers. The general level for construction dust is an APF of 20 which means the wearer only breathes one twentieth of the dust that is in the surrounding air.
- Compatible with other items of protective equipment
- Fits the user – face fit testing is essential for tight fitting masks.
- Worn correctly – anybody who is using tight fitting masks will need to be clean-shaven.