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HSE Crackdown on Construction Dust

Published on 1 November 2021 | Modified on 1 November 2021

Written by Stacey Bennett

HSE inspectors started targeting construction firms from Monday 4th October 2021 for a month of inspections focusing on respiratory risks to workers and ensuring control measures are in place to protect their lungs from construction dust.

The primary focus is on health but action will be taken if there are areas of concern identified.  The inspectors highlighted the HSE’s WorkRight campaign which is aimed at influencing behaviours by encouraging builders to download free guidance and advice increasing knowledge to protect workers.

According to the HSE more than 3500 builders die a year from cancers related to their work with thousands of other cases of ill-health.

There are three main types of construction dust;

  1. Silica dust which is created when working with concrete, mortar and sandstone
  2. Wood Dust which is created when working with all types of wood and wood-based products
  3. General dust created when working with other types of materials such as plasterboard, limestone and marble

The main dust related conditions as a result of breathing in these types of dust are;

  1. Lung cancer
  2. Silicosis
  3. COPD
  4. Asthma

Whilst some of the diseases such as advanced silicosis and lung cancer can come on quite quickly some take years to develop with gradual build up due to exposure over time to the dust.

It is estimated by the HSE that over 500 construction workers die a year from exposure to silica dust.  This is because the amounts needed to cause damage are not large.  The maximum allowed daily exposure to silica dust using the correct health and safety controls is tiny and should be very carefully controlled and monitored.

Exposure to dust is a hazard in many other industries.

The most hazardous dusts other than those listed above are Asbestos which can be found in any building built before 2000 and causes over 5000 deaths a year, Flour which also can cause dermatitis the second most common cause of occupational asthma and Grain which is the most common cause of occupational asthma as well as skin irritation and other respiratory diseases.  In agriculture the number of occupational asthma cases due to exposure to grain dust is twice the national average.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) cover activities which may expose workers to dust.

The first requirement of the regulations is that the risks are assessed, then controlled and then the controls are reviewed such as to make sure the work is done in the right way, the protective equipment is used properly and stored and cleaned correctly.  The HSE gives guidance on its pages for the measures that should be put in place and respiratory and other personal protective equipment that is suitable as part of its online Dust hub.

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