Dust can kill. Don’t risk your long-term health

blog 20 Oct 2021

Dust can have massive long term effects on our health and wellbeing and could even cause death in some instances. This blog highlights the risks and how to be respiratory mindful and keep safe  when working within a dust filled environment.

Dust can kill. Don’t risk long-term health

Several construction activities can create dust. But because dust particles are so tiny and not always visible to the eye, dust may not always seem to be an obvious health hazard.

Sadly, statistics reveal that construction workers die every single week from lung diseases caused by exposure to dust. And many more suffer from severe chronic long-term lung conditions. 

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) there are 17,000 self-reported breathing or lung problems made worse by work. Perhaps more frighteningly, 12,000 lung disease deaths each year are estimated to be linked to past exposures at work.

In fact, dust is considered such a health hazard that the HSE is visiting construction sites - of all types and sizes - across the country throughout October to check that appropriate measures are in place to protect workers’ lung health from exposure to dust.

What types of dust are the most hazardous?

Dust can be produced when materials are cut, drilled, demolished, sanded or shovelled. But not all dust particles are the same and some are more harmful than others. Dust is generally broken down into three sizes - inhalable, thoracic and respirable dust.

Inhalable dust is generally larger in scale and is normally be captured by mucus, although it is still dangerous to health. It is the ultra-fine dust - such as silica dust - which is sometimes known as the ‘invisible killer’ due to its ability to reach the deepest part of the lungs. Silica is commonly found in many construction materials such as concrete and mortar.

Long-term, silica dust can cause serious health problems, such as lung cancer, COPD, silicosis and asthma. Unfortunately, these diseases may only become evident after a long period of time and when it is too late for treatment to have any effect. Therefore, an effective dust control system on site is vital.

Make sure you are aware of the risks and know what to do to stay safe 

There are measures you can put in place to control exposure to dust in the workplace. The Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineering (CIBSE) states that a hierarchy of controls should always be considered to ensure the safest and most effective control method is achieved.

Elimination of the hazard and substitution of the hazard are the most effective means of control. But practically, when customers are trying to carry out a task or finish a project against tight deadlines, these may not be an option. The next stage is for an engineering control to be considered.

That’s where our experts at Sunbelt Rentals can help. In simple terms, engineering controls protect workers by removing hazardous conditions or by placing a barrier between the worker and the hazard. Examples could include dust extraction products or correctly fitted respiratory protective equipment (RPE).

Reducing risk

Risk can be reduced through the implementation of control measures and the use of tools and equipment that enable detection and monitoring of dust levels. These include the Trolex Air XD unit which offers accurate, real-time particulate monitoring in the harshest and most hazardous working environments. A state-of-the-art sensing device continuously measures every particle from 0.35 to 40 μm.

Other monitoring tools include the Casella Guardian2 Monitor which can be used on construction sites not only to measure dust, but also noise and vibration levels. Alerts can be generated automatically when specified limits are exceeded.

There are also dust extraction products in the Sunbelt Rentals fleet such as the DC AirCube air cleaner particle extraction unit. A two-stage filtration system removes fine dust particles from the work environment to ensure improved air quality for workers. Dust extraction products can also be fitted to handheld tools to shield users from direct inhalation of dust.

Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is another control measure. Face fit testing is required for RPE masks such as disposable half masks, reusable filter or cartridge half masks, full face filter or cartridge masks and escape set masks.

Face Fit testing is a method of checking that a specific model and size of a tight fitting facepiece matches the wearer’s facial features and seals adequately to the wearer’s face. It also helps identify facepieces which may not be suitable for the wearer.

The HSE advises that fit testing should be conducted by a competent person and that competence can be demonstrated by accreditation under the Fit2Fit RPE Fit Test Providers Accreditation Scheme. Sunbelt Rentals not only supplies RPE such as masks, but also specialises in face fit testing with several strategically located Fit2Fit accredited Respiratory Technicians deployed across the UK.

It’s crucial that we all realise the health risks of exposure to dust and make sure workers are protected. The HSE’s ‘Dust Hub’ at https://www.hse.gov.uk/dust/index.htm provides a wealth of information to help employers control exposure to dust in the workplace. You can also contact our experts for further advice.

Air Filtration Units

See if one of our Air Filtration units could help with your dust management here.
Filtration Units

Fume & Dust Extraction Hire

Our range of Dust & Fume extraction equipment can help manage your dust environment, find your perfect solution here.
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