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Dust risks not effectively planned for at many construction sites

Dust risks not effectively planned for at many construction sites
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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(Last updated )

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) campaign looking at the dangers of respirable dust on construction sites has found that many UK sites have no effective design or planning to eliminate risks.

The regulator, carrying out inspections as part of its Dust Kills campaign, found that hierarchy of controls were not considered at all. This meant important control measures, like using pre-cut materials instead of cutting on-site, water suppression, on-tool extraction and respiratory protective equipment (RPE) were ignored.

HSE inspected over 1,000 sites between May and July to look at what was being done to prevent or reduce dust risks. Acting Head of Construction Division Mike Thomas said:

“Regularly breathing in the dust generated by many construction activities can cause diseases like lung cancer, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and silicosis.

Every year we see construction workers die from these diseases caused or made worse by their work because the necessary precautions required to protect their long-term lung health have not been taken by employers and workers themselves.

“The 1,000 plus inspections completed took place across a range of construction sites to check the action businesses are taking to ensure their workers’ health is being protected.

Where planning around the risks of dust and controls to prevent exposure are not even considered, it shows there is still plenty of room for improvement.”

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At some sites using high-powered cutting saws that generate silica and wood dust, inspectors found there was no on-tool extraction in place. If hoses and units for extraction were in place, they were poorly maintained and ineffective.

RPE in many instances wasn’t available, or there were no procedures to ensure it was used. Workers’ health was in some instances not considered when sweeping up dust with brooms, with no damping down to control the dust.

However, inspectors also found good practices, as some sites made use of motorised water suppression alongside face fit-tested FFP3 RPE to reduce exposure to silicosis and lung cancer-causing respirable crystalline silica (RCS).

At some sites they found air-fed hoods – or powered air respirators – being used when working with high-powered cutting saws during carpentry, to prevent exposure to asthma-causing wood dust. And some sites found details of HSE’s campaign within company health, safety & environmental newsletters to raise awareness.

The HSE is now carrying out a full evaluation of the inspection data.

The regulator reminded employers that the law requires them to prevent the ill health of their workers as far as reasonably practicable, including prevention or adequate control of workers’ exposure to construction dust. They said ideally elimination of the risk of exposure to dust for workers should be achieved by good design and planning.

For answers to questions on health and safety, visit BrAInbox today where you can find answers to questions like Can small amounts of silica dust be harmful if inhaled?

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