Dust in Construction: the Silent Killer
When working in construction, there various controls and procedures you should follow to ensure the health and safety of all workers. Whilst there are a lot of safety procedures in place to prevent workplace accidents, the precautions for protecting workers’ health are often harder to pin down. This is despite long-term, work-related health issues affecting a larger proportion of construction workers than accidents do. This month, we’re putting the spotlight on the effects of construction dust on health.
What is construction dust?
Construction dust is a wide ranging term which encompasses all small particles which are created by materials and activities on a construction site. This dust can come from a variety of sources such as wood and stone.
The kind of dust which is of biggest concern is silica dust. Silica is a natural mineral which is found in many materials which are commonly used in construction, including sandstone, sand, concrete, tile, granite, slate and bricks. The finest form of silica dust – respirable crystalline silica (RCS) – is what can cause health problems due to its ability to get deep into the lungs and cause damage. Such small particles of RCS can be released during many construction activities such as drilling, grinding, cutting, sanding, polishing, shoveling and fettling.
How construction dust affects health
By breathing in the small RCS particles, you are at risk of developing a variety of lung diseases, including:
- • Silicosis: can result in breathing difficulties whilst also increasing the risk of lung infections. Silicosis is usually the result of exposure to RCS over long periods of time but if you are subjected to very high amounts, the illness can develop quickly.
- • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): a group of lung illnesses – such as emphysema and bronchitis – which can cause intense breathlessness and extensive coughing. This can be very debilitating and is a leading cause of death.
- • Asthma: an inflammatory condition characterised by wheezing, coughing, feeling short of breath and tight-chested.
- • Lung cancer: extended exposure to RCS can cause lung cancer.
How to prevent the harmful effects of construction dust
Preventing exposure to and, subsequently, the harmful effects of RCS should be a key consideration for employers. Risk assessments should be carried out to determine the health and safety risks on your site, including the presence of RCS. The significant results of the assessment should be shared with employees, along with all preventative controls for combatting and reducing risk and exposure.
Examples of ways to try and minimise RCS include:
- • Ordering precisely measured building materials to reduce the amount of cutting and alteration to materials on site
- • Give thought to the methods being used and try to find alternatives which create less dust – for example, using a nail gun instead of having to drill holes
- • Prevent dust from getting into and lingering in the air through methods such as wet cutting – this weighs down dust particles – and vacuum extraction – this uses apparatus to suck away the dust which has been dispersed into the air
- • If it’s not possible to use preventative methods, the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) should be provided – well-fitting FFP2 and FFP3 type face masks are advised for working with construction dusts
Concrete Drilling Services offer high quality concrete drilling and cutting services to customers across North West England. Our well-trained operatives take all the necessary safety precautions and have the skill to carry out consistent precision work. Our combination of state-of-the-art equipment and dedicated operatives ensures we can carry out a wide variety of jobs, including those in challenging or controlled environments. Get in touch with our helpful team today for more information.