Advice for Employers
Employers have a legal responsibility to protect their workers
against construction dust. Here are simple steps you can take
to meet these responsibilities:
1. Assess (the risk)
Assess the risks linked to the work and materials. Understand the health implications of the materials being used, such as silicosis and lung cancer from respirable crystalline silica. Also, understand what work is being carried out, and how much dust may be created from it. High dust levels are caused by one or more of the following:
The more energy the work involves, the higher the risk. High energy tools like cut-off saws, grinders and grit blasters produce a lot of fine dust in a very short period.
The more enclosed a space, the quicker the concentrations of dust will increase. However, do not assume that dust levels will be low when working outside with high energy tools. Working outside and natural ventilation is not a control measure that you can rely upon.
The longer the work takes the more dust there will be.
Regularly doing the same task in a day will increase the risk of ill health, as will repeating these tasks day-after-day.
2. Control (the risk)
You will need to use a range of controls to manage any exposure to dust. The more severe the health impact, such as with cancer causing material, the greater the level of control that should be achieved.
As with all control regimes, the most effective are those that have been developed in consultation with the workforce. As it is they who will be expected to use them, ensure that they have had their voice in the decisions on how they are expected to work.
Eliminate / Reduce:
Look at the ways to stop or reduce the amount of dust you might make before work starts. Could you achieve the same result by:
using different materials
using different tools or work methods
Control at Source:
Where the risk cannot be eliminated or reduced through design or tool, material, or methodology choice it is important to stop dust getting into the air. You must consider:
Where possible this should be an integral water supply to the tool performing the work. Damping down prior to undertaking dust raising activities is not particularly effective. If this is the only viable option, the damping down must be performed by a second individual whilst the task is being undertaken.
This must use of specifically designed extraction equipment. Use of domestic vacuum cleaners is not an effective level of control. All extraction equipment must be classified as either H (High) or M (Medium) class. An L (Low) class unit is only suitable for lower-toxicity dusts like gypsum in plasterboard. These units provide effective and reliable extraction capability and are fitted with low-flow indicators. The units are marked with a special label. These should create and maintain enough air suction to cope with the amount of dust the work will create. Extraction units with pre-filters, built-in ‘back-flushing’ filter cleaning mechanisms or similar devices should be used, and ensure you have a safe system of work for emptying it.
Respiratory Protective Equipment
Some tasks including cutting, drilling, grinding of material produce so much dust that water suppression or on-tool extraction is not enough on its own. In these cases Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) will also be needed. Remember; RPE is the last line of protection and should only be used in conjunction with other more effective controls.
RPE comes in a variety levels of protection as well as shapes, styles, and sizes to suit individuals’ needs. RPE may be in the form of disposable respirators, reusable half or full face masks, or powered air respirators. It is always advisable to speak to RPE manufacturers for their expert considerations as to which RPE will provide adequate protection for the task in hand as well as being suitable for the needs of your wearers’.
You may need to combine these controls in some situations with other measures like keeping other people away from the work, stopping any dust spreading with sheeting, rotating those doing the work or getting extra ventilation to the work area.
Make sure your workers are aware of the health risks associated with exposure to construction dusts, and also know which procedures they should be following to minimise their dust exposure.
Train them in use and maintenance of all equipment. This should include all control measure that they are required to use, such as how to wear RPE/masks correctly, and how to use water suppression and dust extraction systems.
On tool extraction systems are considered Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) systems, and as such are subject to a 14-month thorough examination and test (TExT) under the COSHH regulations. This should be done in conjunction with your normal daily and weekly checks.
Wearers of tight-fitting respirators including disposable respirators and half/full face masks must be clean shaven where the respirator seals to the wearers face, and be face fit tested to the make and model of the respirator being used.
Reach out to the manufacturer of your control systems for information on correct operation, cleaning, and maintenance of your controls. Many will offer posters and videos as well as convenient lists of spares/consumables.
3. Monitor (the controls)
Have procedures to ensure that work continues to be carried out in the right way. You may need to carry out personal exposure monitoring to give you the confidence that your control regime is both suitable and effective. Also consider that you may be required to establish a health surveillance programme in the form of baseline and routine lung function tests or even x-rays to identify silicosis.