This news article featured in Issue no. 14 of CHSP’s May – June 2022 newsletter.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), England’s workplace health and safety regulator have committed to conducting random visits to construction sites from Monday 6th June. The HSE will be conducting a month long focus on respiratory risks and occupational lung disease.
Construction sites will be visited to check that appropriate measures are in place for controlling dust.
HSE inspectors will observe the way work is designed, planned and the effectiveness of measures in place (if any) to protect workers from harmful exposure to dust. This includes all types of dust generating activities.
DUST IS A SILENT KILLER
All types of dust generating activities insufficiently controlled is harmful to health, regardless of the size of the dust particles. Repeated exposure to large amounts causes long term irreversible damage. Some of the debilitating conditions caused by significant exposure can cause Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), lung cancer, asthma and silicosis.
No matter what type of dust or the size of the particles, when dust enters the respiratory system it can cause damage. It is often perceived as not that serious when dust generation is part of the day- to-day activity because it is a silent and sometimes invisible killer.
Once in your lungs, dust will start causing damage with no means of escape. It can take years before the damage is noticeable and visible for diagnosis and by then it can be too late. Exposure to dust can lead to severe breathing difficulties, that will make normal day-to-day activities, such as a walk in the park, near impossible.
Click this link to see work related lung disease statistics.
Make sure you are aware of the risks and work in ways that always protect your lung health. Medication cannot fix the damage.
Sources of Dust
Myth: Hand sawing and planing wood doesn’t generate dust particles small enough to cause harm to health.
ALL activities that generate dust are harmful to health this includes silica dust, all types of wood dust, metal dust, asbestos and general construction dust (concrete, mortar, dirt and sandstone). The amount of dust generated cannot be assessed by the naked eye.
For materials such as wood being planed or cut with a hand saw, varying sizes of dust is generated from this. The length of time the dust is airborne depends on the size, weight, condition and the environment.
Any activity that generates or disturbs materials that causes airborne exposure, should have measures in place to reduce exposure as much as practicable.
Myth: One quick cut does not generate a lot of dust so wont do any harm
Dust particles can be 100 times smaller than a grain of sand. You don’t need to see them to breathe them in, or for a significant amount of dust to be airborne.
Myth: Metal dust doesn’t pose a threat to health
As there are a number of factors that effect the length of time dust remains airborne, metal dust still poses a danger. In addition when metal dust is generated it is done so using methods that generate heat which causes fumes to be released into the atmosphere.
IS IT TOO LATE FOR YOU?
There is little telling in the first 20-40 years how much damage has been done from workplace dust exposure. It is never too late to act
responsibly to protect the health of yourself and others around you.
Measures to consider:
- Eliminating the task where a safer practical alternative is available
- Regular instruction and training programmes, adequate supervision promoting a positive health and safety
culture and good levels of communication to the workforce. Here’s a useful video provided by the HSE that is part of a series:
Dust at work
- Risk assess how a reduction of exposure can be executed using the hierarchy of controls
- Setting an example by routinely following specified control measures
- Clean up operation methods that reduce dust exposure such as H class dust extraction vacuums, how will they be emptied in a
way that will reduce exposure?, are water suppression methods practical and effective?, i.e. achieving sufficient water coverage
- Is dust extraction purchased compatible with equipment it is to be fitted with?
- What respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is suitable for each individual worker?, do any of the effected workers wear
beards?, does RPE provided fit?, has a competent person face fit tested?, are they compatible with other personal protective
equipment?, i.e. protective glasses or face shields.
Please note: Although the HSE are conducting visits with dust in mind, that doesn’t mean that they won’t pursue any other health and safety concerns they may observe. Anything that is found can be subject to a HSE charge.