Dust Kills: HSE Launches Construction Health Campaign

A nationwide inspection campaign is being launched by the Health and Safety Executive to make sure construction workers are being properly protected from the dangers of dust exposure. Failure to protect workers from the hazardous effects of dust at work is unacceptable, says the HSE, which is running a summer campaign targeting construction sites across the UK.

Inspections are being carried out in June and July, supported by the HSE’s ongoing Dust Kills campaign, which offers free safety advice to companies and employees on dust prevention measures.

Dust produced during construction
© Irene Miller / Shutterstock


Dangers of dust

The latest initiative will focus on respiratory risks from exposure to dust. Every year, thousands of construction industry workers suffer irreversible lung disease caused by past exposure in the workplace. This type of disease can have a life-changing impact and can even result in a shortened life expectancy.

The HSE says occupational lung disease is preventable in the 21st century if the correct safety measures are installed. Officials are urging companies and employees to take the necessary precautions to combat the risk of catching diseases from dust. When long-term lung health is impaired, this has a “devastating impact” on both victims and their families, says the HSE.


Silica dust exposure risks

Labelled the “next asbestos crisis” by celebrity builder and Ground Force star Tommy Walsh, who has been personally campaigning about the dangers; health experts have been warning employees about lung disease caused by silica dust, which causes lung cancer deaths of almost 800 people in the UK each year.

Data reveals construction workers make up 81% of those suffering from silica dust exposure, putting them at a high risk of lung cancer and occupational silicosis – the world’s commonest chronic lung disease.


How much exposure to wood dust is dangerous?

HSE inspectors will also be checking control measures on construction sites to protect workers from inhaling wood dust. Both softwood and hardwood dusts have a workplace exposure limit that must not be exceeded: for softwood dust it is 5mg per m3; for hardwood dust it is 3mg per m3, both based on an eight-hour average.

The control of wood dust in the workplace is required to reduce exposure to as low a level as possible.


Is plaster dust dangerous?

The main respiratory hazards associated with plastering are caused by the workers’ exposure to airborne plaster dust. This occurs when mixing the material from a dry to a wet state in preparation for use. It also occurs during the sanding down of dried materials.

Plaster dust contains composites such as limestone, calcium sulphate hemihydrate, clay, small amounts of silica and sometimes hydrated lime. Inhaling dust from these materials can cause respiratory complaints and other potentially serious diseases in the long term including occupational asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – both are incurable.


Is MDF dust dangerous?

Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF) is a wood-based sheet material manufactured by bonding together wood fibres using a synthetic resin adhesive. MDF is a versatile and durable material that has replaced solid timber in many applications.

The environment created by sanding or machining MDF board contains a mixture of hardwood dust and softwood dust, as well as free formaldehyde, the resin binder and its derivatives and dust particles onto which formaldehyde has been absorbed.

Employers are required by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 to control the risk to employees’ health arising from exposure to MDF dust.


Dangers of cement dust

In the short term, exposing construction workers to high levels of cement dust can irritate the nose and throat. Over a longer period, regular exposure can lead to incurable occupational asthma.

Workers who are mixing a batch of concrete, drilling into concrete materials, or using cement in other ways may be exposed to harmful cement and concrete dust.


What to do after inhaling dust

If you have breathed in harmful dust or fumes in the workplace, it can have serious or even fatal consequences, so it’s important to know what to do.

Go outside into fresh air immediately and make sure colleagues are made aware of what’s happened, should you need emergency medical treatment.

If you see that a colleague has inhaled dust or fumes and collapses, dial 999 immediately and call for assistance from a company first aider until the ambulance arrives.


The solution

Companies whose employees are at risk of exposure to harmful dust are required to provide safety measures, such as dust extraction solutions.

AirBench solves dust and fume extraction problems in minutes. As the UK’s leading range of downdraught benches, our solutions will capture dust and fumes quickly and effectively, contain them using internal filters, before returning clean air to the room.

HSE inspectors will be visiting construction sites between now and the end of July to check that companies are taking the necessary action to protect long-term respiratory health.

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