Sweeping dust into the air

HSE “Dust Kills” Inspections Highlight Exposure Issues

The Health and Safety Executive’s Dust Kills campaign has revealed that bad practices in the UK workplace are putting employee health at risk.

Between May and July 2023, more than 1,000 inspections took place to determine whether businesses were protecting workers from the dangerous effects of workplace dust.

Sweeping dust into the air© Flystock / Shutterstock

The initial findings of the HSE Dust Kills campaign have highlighted that some companies are failing their workforce. Despite the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 making it mandatory to protect employees, breaches of the legislation are still happening.


What poor practices have been observed?

The HSE inspectors found multiple examples of poor practices in various industrial sites. For example, some workplaces did not have any on-tool extraction in place on high-powered cutting saws that generated wood and silica dust. The inspectors also observed extraction equipment that was poorly maintained, including units and hoses, making it ineffective.

In addition, the appropriate respiratory protective equipment (RPE) wasn’t made available for workers on some sites. In workplaces where it was available, there were no checks to make sure it was actually being used.

Workers’ health was often not considered even when completing simple tasks, such as sweeping the floor indoors, which generated large volumes of dust.

Inspectors also found sites where the relevant controls weren’t being considered. There wasn’t any planning to eliminate dust hazards and the design was ineffective.

Suitable control measures, such as dust extraction through the use of a downdraught bench, hadn’t been put in place. Unfortunately, in some cases, the inspectors found workplaces where nothing at all had been done to reduce the risk of dust exposure.

The inspections had been carried out unannounced all over the UK so the HSE could ascertain how the risks were managed on a normal working day.


Good practices

Inspectors also say there have been some encouraging signs of good practices as well. These include the use of powered air respirators (known as air fed hoods) in carpentry while working with high powered cutting saws to avoid wood dust exposure, which can cause asthma.

There have also been examples of companies using motorised water suppression and FFP3 face fit-tested respiratory protective equipment. This reduces exposure to crystalline silica, which can cause lung cancer and the respiratory disease silicosis.

The HSE says many companies are aware of the importance of effective control measures to protect the health of employees on construction sites. The organisation is continuing to campaign for the use of dust extraction solutions in the workplace to protect the workforce and comply with the health and safety laws.

The HSE found it encouraging that some companies were including information about the Dust Kills campaign in health and safety newsletters. This had raised awareness of the hazards of dust exposure and the importance of installing dust extraction systems and other controls to protect employees.

Inspectors say that although some employers are adhering to the health and safety regulations, there’s still “plenty of room for improvement”. They are still analysing the results of the inspections and plan to release more information when it becomes available.

Early results were published to coincide with UK Construction Week to bring the data to more employers’ attention.

COSHH requires companies to prevent the ill health of employees as much as “reasonably practicable”. This includes installing “adequate control” to reduce their exposure to construction dust, with the aim of eliminating exposure completely where possible.

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