Why you should care about dust

dust reduction

Dust has been described by some HSE experts as the “new asbestos in the construction industry”, due to its potentially hazardous consequences on your health.

Depending on the processed base material, size of the dust particles, concentration in the air and the duration workers are exposed, dust can lead to severe health issues as well as loss of productivity and working comfort. It can also spread to other areas impacting people, nature and the environment.

Before we explore why you should care about dust, let’s explain what it is and how it's generated.

what is dust?

Dust consists of tiny solid particles that are highly dispersed and easily circulated in the air. Inhalable dust can be trapped in the mouth or nose, is less than 100 microns in size and is usually from wood dust, whereas respirable dust penetrates deep into the lungs, is less than 10 microns and is generated from silica. There's also thoracic dust, which gets trapped in the upper part of the airway and comes from cotton fibres.

Let’s put that into perspective: the average human hair is about 60 microns thick!

Fine dust is invisible to the human eye and can only be seen if there's a lot of it in the air. Because of its small particle size, it can stay in the air for up to 12 days. When we can’t see dust, we might still smell it e.g. if a room smells “like concrete”, cement can be circulating in the air.

Fine dust particles are the most dangerous, as they're small enough to get into the far reaches of the respiratory system - typically the alveoli where they interfere with oxygen and potentially cause long-term damage. Over-exposure to respirable dust that contains silica can even cause cancer, silicosis and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

How is dust generated?

Dust is generated from the abrasive treatment of materials like drilling, chiselling, sawing or grinding. But dust can also occur through circulation by transporting dusty materials, when it's blown up by wind or while mixing powdery materials like preparing cement. Depending on the material processed, different types of dust occur.

Here are two of the most dangerous types of dust relevant to the construction industry:

  1. Dust with crystalline structure: generated by abrasive treatment of materials that contain silica e.g. sandstone, concrete, mortar or tile. It contains respirable crystalline silica (RCS).
  2. Dust with powder structure: occurs from the abrasive treatment of wood and processed wood like medium-density fiberboard (MDF). In the UK, hard wood is classed as carcinogenic in the EH40 regulations.

DUST IS EVERYWHERE

It’s a fact that dust is everywhere on construction sites. It occurs at nearly every point in the construction process including drilling, sawing, breaking, grinding and transportation. It's so prevalent that it’s often considered as normal and nothing to worry about - but that isn't true.

Some jobs create a huge amount of dust e.g. slitting bricks and installing electrical cables can produce about 17kg of dust an hour. Demolishing concrete ceilings for post-installation can produce around 6kg of dust per hour.

Now add up all of the jobs that are carried out on a normal day – that’s a worrying amount of dust your employees must be dealing with, right? So, here comes the number one reason why you should care about dust:

Dust is created at nearly every point in the construction process including cutting concrete

DUST CAN SERIOUSLY IMPACT YOUR HEALTH

A shockingly high number of people die each year from lung cancer caused by over-exposure to respirable silica dust. Others suffer from dust-related diseases like COPD, meaning they can no longer work. Several national and international organisations have realised the urgency of the issue and have launched initiatives and campaigns to combat dust in construction.

When the human body inhales dust, natural defence mechanisms kick in e.g. sneezing and coughing. But those human defence mechanisms are limited and ineffective for certain kinds of dust. Special care must be taken when working with materials containing silica.

Silica is a natural material, with around 27% of our earth's crust covered with it. When processing materials like sandstone, concrete, mortar, tile and brick, fine dust that contains respirable crystalline silica (RCS) occurs. Over-exposure to these RSC particles can be extremely dangerous, as they reach deep into our lungs and settle in our air sacks (alveoli). Over time, scar tissue is produced and reduces our ability to inhale oxygen. This incurable disease is called silicosis.

Other reasons to take control of dust

If construction continues to have a reputation for being dusty and dirty, prospective workers may avoid the industry altogether - which is worrying considering there's already an industry wide skills shortage.

Working amongst dust also increases the risk of injury due to reduced visibility and distractions like eye irritations, sneezing, coughing or nose blowing. But that’s not the only reason to take control of dust. You can significantly increase productivity and lower maintenance costs by:

  • Reducing preparation time: no/minimal need to seal off the area before work starts
  • Reducing cleaning: save up to 99% cleaning time depending on the application
  • Reducing damage of fixtures and fittings: like carpets and furniture
  • Increasing lifetime of tools: by up to 60% and by up to 20% for inserts
  • Increasing application speed: up to 20% with cleaner and sharper tools

 

 

As the conversation around construction dust continues to gain momentum, it's your responsibility to make your business as safe as possible. Want to become virtually dust-free? Check out our Hilti dust management solutions, or visit our dust page for more in-depth reading.

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