Managing dust hazards in construction

Managing dust hazards on construction sites has become increasingly important over the years. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published a report through their Dust Kills campaign, highlighting respiratory risks in construction including the likes of silica dust and wood dust.

They found repeated instances of poor practice, including:

  • No on-tool extraction in place on high-powered cutting saws that generate silica and wood dust
  • Poorly maintained extraction equipment, such as hoses and units, making them ineffective
  • Suitable RPE not being made available on site for workers to use, or not enforced
  • The health of workers not being considered when carrying out the simplest of tasks such as sweeping up indoors


Why is it important to manage the health risks of construction dust?

The purpose of the Dust Kills campaign was to highlight these examples of malpractice and see the measures that businesses have put in place to protect their workers from hazardous substances.

This is part of the HSE’s longer-term health and work strategy to improve health within the construction industry. More than 3,500 builders die each year from cancers related to their work and becoming exposed to harmful substances, with thousands more cases of ill health and working days lost. Now more than ever, dust exposure monitoring is more important than ever in the construction industry.


What are the typical dust hazards on construction sites to be aware of?

Within the construction sector, there are lots of factors to consider when looking out for construction dust. If you’re working around silica, asbestos, wood or lead dust then you should understand the risks associated with this:

Silica dust:

Silica dust is produced when working with materials such as concrete, brick, stone, or sand. Cutting, grinding, drilling, or blasting these materials can generate fine silica particles. Inhaling silica exposure can lead to serious respiratory issues, such as silicosis, lung cancer, and other lung diseases.

Silica dust is outlined under the COSHH regulations which ensure employers control these with measures such as LEV (local exhaust ventilation).

Wood dust:

Wood dust is a common hazard in construction, especially when working with saws, sanders, or routers. Breathing in wood dust can lead to respiratory problems, irritation of the eyes and nose, and throat health effects.

Wood dust is covered by COSHH regulations which require employers to perform risk assessments with hazardous wood dust on construction sites and to implement control measures such as LEV, suitable respiratory protection, and ensure regular cleaning and maintenance to control dust levels.

Lead dust:

Construction activities involving lead-based paint removal, demolition, or renovation of older structures can generate lead dust. Lead exposure can cause severe health issues, particularly affecting the nervous system, kidneys, and reproductive system. It is especially harmful to children and pregnant women.

The Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002 requires employers to assess the risk of lead exposure, implement control measures to minimise exposure, provide suitable PPE, maintain good hygiene practices, and offer health surveillance for workers who may be exposed to lead dust.

Cement dust:

Cement dust is produced during activities like mixing, cutting, or grinding cement-based materials. Inhaling cement dust can result in respiratory problems, including bronchitis, asthma, or a condition called cement pneumoconiosis.

Cement dust is covered by COSHH regulations which explains that employers legally need to provide correct PPE and ensure ventilation.


Your responsibilities as an employer to manage the risks of construction dust

As an employer, you hold a legal duty to protect your workers by preventing or reducing construction dust exposure to your workers. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974), you have a general duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the Health & Safety of all employees at work. You can do this by assessing and controlling the risks.

If you’re performing activities that produce dust in construction, you should:

  • Avoid creating dust if and wherever possible
  • Perform dust exposure monitoring ensuring that dust levels don’t exceed the required level.
  • If cutting, use wet cut techniques (e.g., for roof tiles)
  • Provide respiratory protective equipment (RPE) and personal protective equipment (PPE) – even if you’re sweeping up on the construction site, you should wear the relevant RPE. It’s important to ensure that RPE does not affect hard hats, eye protection or ear protection during the worker’s time on-site.
  • Don’t use dust bags and instead make sure you have adequate dust extraction that needs to be filtered. This must be rated high or medium at least. You must also conduct regular risk assessments on extractors.

For a more detailed guide to managing dust in construction, please check out our free download below.

Managing dust in construction

Our experts' guidance on the hazards and risks of dust in construction

Download the guide

How can Citation help you prevent dust hazards in construction?

At Citation, we help you to prevent dust hazards in construction sites with our all-in-one, affordable Health & Safety package. From risk assessment support and 24/7 advice to policy and handbook creation and an easy-to-use online Health & Safety management hub, you could be 75% less likely to have a reportable accident and 47x less likely* to face an enforcement notice with our support.

For more support on this topic, simply call 0345 844 4848 if you’re an existing client of ours, or call 0345 844 1111 if you’re not already a client of ours and we’ll get you started.

*Versus national averages.

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