Construction Dust FAQs

The most frequently asked questions about construction dust answered

What is construction dust?

There are different types of dust generated in the construction process.  Very fine dust, also known as Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) is made up of tiny solid particle which are highly dispersed, and easily circulated in the air around you when carrying out abrasive treatment of materials like concrete. While RCS is the most concerning dust type, other dust generated through wood dust and mineral fibre dust is also a concern in construction. 

Is RCS dust harmful?

Construction dust is extremely harmful, and exposure poses a great risk for workers and the surrounding environment. Regular inhalation of dust particles causes an accumulation in the lungs. This leads to serious, long term health problems like asthma, lung cancer, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and silicosis.  According to recent statistics from HSE, there are around 12,000 lung disease deaths per year estimated to be linked to past exposures at work. On-going health issues like asthma and COPD can lead to people being unfit for work and losing their income. 

How is dust generated?

There are multiple touch points in the construction process that generate dust and it’s found on almost all jobsites. Dust generated when carrying out tasks like the abrasive treatment of concrete and other materials, like mortar and tile. Jobs like drilling, sawing, breaking, and grinding of silica-containing materials can disperse these harmful dust particles into the air. Dust is also generated and carried in the air through clothing, cleaning and transporting materials, like moving vehicles through larger jobsites, for example. 

What are the different types of construction dust?

Different types of dust occur depending on the material being worked on during the construction process.

Silica dust: Silica is a naturally occurring mineral that is found in materials such as concrete, mortar, and granite amongst others. When undergoing abrasive treatment like drilling, sawing or grinding, in the construction process, very fine dust (Respirable Crystalline Silica dust, or RCS dust) is created. Respirable dust is very fine and penetrates alveoli causing severe long-term damage.

Wood dust: wood-based products are common in construction, the dust generated when working with wood materials creates inhalable dust, these particles are trapped in the mouth and nose creating great discomfort for workers.

Thoracic dust: thoracic dust gets trapped in the upper part of the airway and is from cotton fibres.  

How do I effectively control dust?

The HSE recommends a hierarchy of control in order to reduce risks to the lowest reasonably practicable level. This is done through a methodical approach, in order of priority, starting with the most effective. You can use the STOP principle as an effective and memorable guide to control dust on your jobsite which defines the sequence of controlling risk, S-T-O-P.

Substitution: eliminate the risk through using safer alternatives to avoid hazard where possible.

Technical measures: using machinery, tools or technologies to reduce dust in the air, to minimize the dangerous effects of dust for people such as Hilti Dust Removal Systems (DRS).

Organisational measures: implementing alternative methods of working to support training and knowledge sharing. For example using Hilti ON!Track software to manage employee certifications and access Health & Safety information for employees.

Personal protective measures: PPE such as dust masks, for example, should be the last line of defence and are needed where risks remain present even after the other steps have been followed. 

Is dust still a problem if working outdoors?

Yes, dust is airborne so no matter if you are working indoors or on an outdoor jobsite, dust exposure is still a very serious threat and you should follow all recommended guidelines for effective dust control. Dust lingers in the air so, for example, if you are working outdoors on jobs that involve the abrasive treatment of silica containing materials without the correct dust removal systems in place, you are still putting yourself and others at risk around you.  

When did RCS dust become classified as carcinogenic?

The directive classifying Respirable Crystalline (RCS) as a carcinogen came into force in January 2018 and EU member states had until January 2020 to transpose these requirements into their national legislation. 

How long does it take for construction dust to settle?

Depending on the size of dust particle, the amount generated and workspace, times can vary however, dust can stay in the air for a long time after the job has been carried out. Dust generated indoors doesn’t stay in the room where it was generated and can spread throughout the whole location unless sealed off. Often, if a room smells “like concrete” the dust can still be circulating in the air and still risking migration into the lungs. This means you should still wear PPE in a room long after carrying out dust generating jobs. 

What is the EN 50632 standard?

EN 50632 is a standard specifying the procedure to measure dust concentrations (inhalable and/or respirable) produced during the use of mains or battery powered tools under standardised conditions. Hilti was actively involved in developing EN 50632. 

How do I say no to unsafe practice?

If you feel there is unsafe practise in your workplace when it comes to dust exposure and control, you can speak to a trusted person on site, such as the H&S manager. It’s very important that operators on jobsites are aware of the risks they face health and safety wise. When people know more, they will feel more comfortable and confident to challenge these situations. Companies have a major role to play and taking health and safety seriously and with the resources available.

Does plasterboard contain silica?

You can be exposed to plaster dust when mixing material before for use, and during sanding. Plasterboard contains silica composites and can lead to respiratory problems with regular exposure. 

How do I pick the right dust removal system?

When dealing with materials that generate large quantities of often RCS dust on your jobsite, you need to ensure that you have the right equipment to protect your worker’s health. At Hilti, we provide various tools and dust removal systems that work together to create a virtually dust-free working environment. 

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Dust is generated throughout the construction process. Jobs that include carrying out grinding, cutting, drilling, breaking and chasing, all create hazardous dust which can have serious effects on the health and wellbeing of workers. Find out more on how Hilti Dust Removal Systems can help improve workers comfort, health and safety, and productivity.

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