The HSE has launched a new initiative to help refurbishment contractors and construction firms understand the dangers of dust in the workplace. Inspectors will spot-check construction sites throughout October, examining how firms are protecting its workers from cement, asbestos, silica and wood dust inhalation.
Harmful effects of dust
Each year work-related cancers, usually linked to asbestos and silica, are estimated to kill 3,500 people from the construction industry. However, there’s still some confusion over the harmful effects of dust which leads some workers to ignore the current HSE guidelines.
Make no mistake, dust – especially construction dust – can be extremely hazardous to health and in this article, we’ve outlined the main things to be aware of.
Effects of cement dust on construction workers
The health hazards of cement dust are one of the many dangers in the building industry. Cement dust poisoning or even so-called concrete dust cancers are the more extreme outcomes. However, even just a short exposure can be detrimental to health – even if it’s simply just a sore throat from concrete dust inhalation.
Some construction workers and their firms believe these effects to be par for the course within the industry, which is why it’s important for professional fit out companies, such as ASF, to challenge this sentiment, leading by example from the outset.
At ASF, we follow the HSE’s guidelines to reduce inhaling cement dust to the letter which is why you’ll find that our construction sites are largely dust-free.
Dangers of Silica dust
Silica is a naturally-occurring substance found in rocks, sand and clay and is widely used in everyday construction materials, including bricks, mortar and cement.
In spite of this, the dangers of silica dust are widely documented. Sadly, more than 500 construction workers die from exposure to silica dust each year.
Regularly inhaling silica dust can lead to silicosis, one of the most common diseases which afflicts construction workers. The effects of silicosis can vary. In the short term, sufferers complain of shortness of breath and frequent respiratory infections. In the long term, cancer and emphysema can develop.
So, how much silica dust is too much? An alarmingly small amount. The HSE suggest that even just a speck of silica dust, ingested over the course of a day, can cause lasting damage.
Is plaster dust dangerous?
It may surprise you to learn that breathing in drywall dust is one of the leading hazards for any building site. Plaster dust often contains gypsum, talc, mica, calcite and, of course, silica which we’ve already established can be harmful to health.
It’s not just the dangers from inhaling plaster dust which workers need to be aware of. Wet cement and plaster can contain alkaline compounds such as lime (calcium oxide) which are corrosive to human tissue when in contact with skin. Prolonged exposure can lead to skin irritations and ulcers or even third-degree burns.
How to prevent dust inhalation?
- Wear a mask: It’s recommended that workers wear a FFP2 or FFP3-grade mask when cutting through any construction material which is liable to creating dust. The latter should be used when hazardous materials – such as those containing silica – are being used.
- Ensure you have the right size of building materials so less cutting or preparation is needed.
- Use alternative tools for cutting: High energy tools, such as cut-off saws, grinders, wall chasers and grit blasters produce a lot of dust in a very short time. If you can, opt to do the same task with a less powerful tool, such as a block splitter.
- Invest in a vacuum extraction - specially designed tools can be fitted with an industrial vacuum unit that sucks the dust away as it is being created and stores it until emptied.
For more information about how ASF run their construction sites, get in touch.