The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has completed an investigation into construction dust risks
Now more than ever, health and safety is a key focal point for construction businesses. Exposure to dust is one of the most significant problems the construction industry is facing, with some HSE experts referring to it as 'the new asbestos.'
Dust occurs at nearly every point in the construction process and has hazardous consequences upon the health and safety of onsite workers and the surrounding environment. It is vital to understand; what it is, the detrimental impacts it can have on your jobsite and workers, and how you can take steps to create safer working conditions.
Dust is made up of tiny solid particles that are highly dispersed and easily circulated in the air. Meaning exposure to dust can affect not just the worker generating the dust, but other people in the vicinity.
Dust particles can be extremely small and when smaller than 10 microns, are classified as fine dust or particulate matter (PM). Dust bigger than 10 microns is classified as coarse dust. To put this into context, the average human hair is about 60 microns thick.
There is a variety of dust types that occur on a jobsite. Inhalable dust, such as wood dust, can be trapped in the mouth and nose and is less than 100 microns in size, affecting productivity and causing great discomfort for workers. The most harmful is respirable dust or silica dust, which is less than 10 microns in size and penetrates deep into your lungs. This is generated through abrasive treatment like drilling, chiselling, sawing, or grinding of silica-containing materials like concrete, mortar, and sandstone.
The consequences of breathing in Silica dust
Overexposure to fine dust is extremely dangerous and breathing it in regularly can lead to a build-up in the lungs. Once the dust particles have reached parts of the respiratory system, they interfere with oxygen and cause long term damage. This can lead to serious health problems like lung cancer, asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and silicosis. Every year, over 500 construction workers suffer fatalities from exposure to silica dust.
Employers must take the correct measures to reduce their workers' exposure to dust while on the jobsite.