A new Construction Dust Industry Survey released by both IOSH and CDP aimed to provide an insight into issues associated with on-site dust risks, how they are controlled and show that airborne dusts are a major cause of ill health in the construction industry.
In Great Britain alone, there are over 500 deaths each year from Silica related lung cancer. Airborne dusts are the primary cause of non-asbestos related cancers in the construction industry. Some dusts (including wood dust) are respiratory sensitises.
Other health effects of dust include bronchitis, asthma and COPD. Some of these lung diseases, such as silicosis, can develop quite quickly, but most occur gradually over several years.
Construction dust can impact every person in the workplace and on site, including workers and other contractors that are unable to control the risk.
The nature of construction processes is such that processes such as dry sweeping, grit blasting and hand sanding of plaster are high energy and create a significant amount of dust. The temporary duration of construction projects means it is not reasonably practicable to integrate Engineering Controls into the process. Even though controls aren’t put into place, work practices including water suppression are generally practised, which will work to reduce the amount of dust entering the atmosphere.
600 construction industry workers from around the country responded to the survey, with 61% of responses coming from safety and health advisers working in the sector.
The survey was divided into sections covering construction dust risk awareness, water suppression, dust extraction, respiratory protective equipment (RPE), control through design and biographical data.
Construction is a high risk industry and when asked in relation to the survey, builders think of construction dust as a lower concern than the more obvious risks such as falls from height and other “acute” risks to health. 14% of respondents to the survey were not aware of the severe health effects, but think of it as a nuisance, whereas only a mere 3% of respondents were “fully aware” of the risks.
When asked what priority they think the industry currently puts on the control of construction dust risks, a total of 44% of responders to the survey answered ‘very little’, with only 12.5% answering that they feel it is ‘a priority health issue’.
In general workers felt that there was a current lack of priority and awareness given to the risks by companies and very little attempt to design out construction dust risks, as well as an over reliance on RPE within the industry. More than 50 per cent of those surveyed said RPE was provided most or all of the time, however less than a fifth of individuals received appropriate face fit testing. Through the CDP, manufacturers and suppliers are looking at how better to educate the industry in the importance of selecting the right RPE, wearing it correctly and ensuring that masks fit properly.
However, there seemed to be an ever improving picture of control for dust through the use of water suppression, and better compliance by those who are more educated in the controls needed and risks faced.
Future plans are for the Construction Dust Partnership (CDP) to use these construction dust industry survey results as a benchmark from which to direct new initiatives and raise awareness via new projects and measure improvements in attitude and workplace behaviours, whilst working with manufacturers and suppliers to better educate the industry in the importance of using the correct RPE, how to wear it properly and ensuring they fit correctly.
In order to Control Exposure from construction dust and protect employees, the COSHH regulations recommend that air sampling for dust be carried out on a regular basis. Dust sampling is carried out through the use of personal samplers, which coupled with observation from a qualified occupational hygienist can identify any problem areas and make recommendations on ways of reducing exposure. Results from this monitoring can be tailored to any shift length to give a true measure of exposure.
Before beginning work, try and find ways of reducing the amount of dust you create:
Once the risk of construction dust has been reduced, the following methods can be used to control the remaining dust from the environment / workplace:
RPE is often provided as an addition and not an alternative to the reduction and control of construction dust. Respiratory protective equipment is the last line of protection, so you will need to make sure it:
Making sure staff are educated in your on site controls is equally important:
Once you have made sure all of the right controls are in place, you will need to double check that they are all working correctly:
Envirocare can provide assistance by carrying out independent UKAS accredited air quality testing and Silica Dust Monitoring within the workplace. We currently service a wide range of industries. This experience allows us to conduct COSHH monitoring and COSHH Risk Assessments that are relevant and appropriate to the process operating. Our service includes expert technical advice tailored to the needs of the individual business. These include:
Call us on 01274 738668 or fill out our Envirocare Enquiry Form for any queries regarding COSHH air monitoring, risk assessments, silica, construction dust or any of our many other accredited Environmental and Occupational Hygiene services.