Dust Masks – Do It Right

Dust Masks – Do It Right

09th August 2016

The Building Safety Group (BSG) is the UK’s largest construction safety group offering health, safety and environmental advice which is possible due to more than fifty years of experience in providing specialist consultancy services in the UK.  Earlier this year, the BSG carried out more than 10,000 site visits to check health and safety conditions and came up with some quite disturbing news.  According to the findings, there was a 58% increase in breaches of the regulations that cover the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) between the first and second quarters of 2016.  Most of these breaches concern the way in which companies “face-fit” dust masks.

Because dust masks are specifically designed to reduce the risk of workers inhaling dust which contains dangerous chemicals which lead to fatal diseases, this leaves many workers here in the UK at an unacceptable risk of developing lung cancer, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and silicosis.  While wearing a dust mask can significantly reduce the risk of workers inhaling these dangerous chemicals, the risk will only be reduced if the dust mask worn is of the correct type and fitted properly with no gaps. 

Even just a few minutes’ exposure to harmful dust can result in illness – many dangerous substances exist as a fine dust, or even fume, or as a gas or vapour which is invisible in the air, just like the oxygen we breathe.  Around 12,000 people die each year in the UK as a result of long-term exposure to substances that they breathe in at work.  If an employer chooses to have workers wear dust masks as a method of protecting their health, then it’s important that each worker is involved in selecting the mask they are going to wear.

Although many workers will say that a dust mask is hot and uncomfortable, then this is an issue that needs to be addressed during the face-fitting process.  Working closely with the professional who is helping to fit your mask is an essential step in ensuring greater comfort during wear.  Each individual worker should be given advice on how to fit the mask properly and which type of mask will best suit the individual’s needs. 

Some masks need to be fitted tightly to the face so it’s essential that the mask forms a good seal to the skin.  The mask may at first feel a little uncomfortable (for instance, you may find that you need to make a little extra effort to breathe through the mask) but most people get used to wearing a mask before too long. 

Masks and filters need changing on a regular basis and it’s important that your employer provides suitable training on how to check, put on, use, maintain and store your mask.  Some masks, such as disposable dust masks, should be replaced every day and it’s the responsibility of the employer to ensure that plenty of these disposable masks are available for the workforce.