There’s a new focus on dust exposure risks. Are you ready?

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Written by: Gary Broadley
26th February

Dust exposure risks must be taken seriously. Every week, construction industry workers die from respiratory diseases caused by exposure to dust.

Now, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has announced that it'll be focusing on dust exposure during its 2024 inspections, building on the momentum of its 2023 Dust Kills Campaign.

Industrial employers need to act now to implement effective measures to reduce dust exposure and mitigate the risk of lung disease.

1. Understanding Dust Exposure and Its Impact on Lung Health

Understanding the implications of dust exposure and its risks enables individuals to take preventive measures against potential lung diseases and use appropriate respiratory protection equipment.

Dust exposure doesn’t discriminate. Regardless of whether you're a construction worker, an engineer, or a manager overseeing operations—you're at risk. This prolonged exposure can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, and even death in severe cases. So, it’s important to know the different types of dust and how they impact health.

Some of the most common dust types encountered in construction and industrial working conditions are:

● Silica dust, also referred to as respirable crystalline silica (RCS), is produced from materials like stone, rock, sand, gravel, and clay. Due to its fine particles, silica dust can deeply penetrate the lungs and lead to severe respiratory diseases.

● Wood dust is produced from cutting, sanding, and shaping wood. It can cause respiratory issues and is also a known carcinogen.

● Construction dust encompasses the dust generated during construction processes such as demolition, excavation, and concrete cutting. It can contain harmful substances like asbestos, lead, and chemicals.

Effects on Lung Health

Exposure can lead to a range of lung diseases such as:

● Black lung disease (miner’s lung)

● Brown lung (working around dust from cotton or other fibers.)

● Pneumoconiosis (caused by silica and asbestos)

● Silicosis

Dust particles, when inhaled, cause inflammation and scarring in the lung tissue, which in turn reduces the lungs’ capacity to absorb oxygen. This underpins the development of silicosis, a long-term lung disease.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is another serious condition resulting from dust exposure. Individuals with COPD are more susceptible to developing heart disease, lung cancer, and other chronic health conditions.

2. Identifying Risks in Your Workplace

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) covers activities that may expose workers to construction dust. Employers are advised to evaluate the risks of dust exposure in workplaces by adhering to the ‘Assess, Control, and Review model’ outlined in COSHH regulations. This involves conducting a COSHH assessment to identify hazards and assess the risks associated with dangerous substances.

3. Implementing Control Measures for Dust Exposure

Engineering Controls

The implementation of engineering controls includes the utilisation of dust extraction systems, adequate ventilation, and wet-cutting techniques to reduce dust levels in the workplace. Dust extraction systems serve the purpose of purifying and filtering hazardous dusts and particulates to enhance air quality.

Proper ventilation is crucial for controlling dust levels in the workplace. By diluting and removing airborne contaminants, ventilation reduces the risk of workers inhaling dangerous dust particles. Wet-cutting methods are simply the utilisation of water to notably diminish the dust generated while cutting materials such as concrete. This method has the potential to decrease the release of dust particles by as much as 85% in comparison to dry-cutting techniques.

Personal Protective Equipment

Personal protective equipment, such as respirators and masks, should be provided to employees to protect them from inhaling harmful dust particles. The recommended types of respirators for dust exposure include:

● BS EN149: covers filtering facepieces provided with filters are rated as FFP1, 2 or 3 Face covering masks

● Disposable safety face masks

● PAPR-powered air-purifying respirators

N95 is an American respirator standard which is widely considered equivalent to the UK/European FFP2 respirators for filtering non-oil-based particles which is effective in preventing dust inhalation.

Work Practices and Training

Employers should provide information, training and instruction for employees who work with substances hazardous to health. Also, employees need to understand the outcome of the risk assessment and what this means for them.

The information provided should include:

· What the hazards and risks are.

· About any workplace exposure limit.

· The results of any monitoring of exposure.

· The general results of health surveillance.

· What to do if there is an accident (e.g., spillage) or emergency.

In addition, employees should have access to safety data sheets.

A comprehensive dust exposure training program should include information on the hazards related to dust, strategies to manage dust in the work environment, practical measures to reduce exposure, as well as specific details such as the trainee’s name, company name, course name, date of completion, and expiry date.

4. Be ready for HSE Inspections

With a heightened focus on minimising lung disease, HSE inspections are now more rigorous than ever. It's critical your business is prepared for these expectations and is in full compliance with the COSHH regulations.

Below are nine ways to demonstrate compliance with COSHH regulations, including identifying hazardous substances, assessing the substances used and produced in the workplace, controlling the risks, keeping records, and providing training.

o finding out what the health hazards are

o undertake risk assessment, and implement measures to control risks to health

o providing control measures to reduce harm to health

o ensuring they are used

o keeping all control measures in good working order

o providing information, instruction, and training for employees

o providing monitoring and health surveillance in appropriate cases

o planning for emergencies.

o Create a COSHH register

HSE inspections can vary in their approach—so, it’s essential to tailor your preparation to the unique characteristics of your workplace.

5. If you’re in construction, know how to manage occupational lung disease risks

While controlling dust in construction poses a challenge, it can be effectively managed with suitable strategies and equipment. Dust extraction systems like Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) systems, M Class Dust Extractors and on-tool extraction are suitable for use on construction sites to manage dust.

Remember, by utilising water in wet-cutting methods you can minimise the dust generated during cutting procedures with efficiency.

The laws governing the control of harmful substances in the workplace, and their supporting ACOP, stated that RPE should be used as a last resort after all other reasonably practicable measures to prevent or control exposure have been explored. By going through the risk assessment process required by these laws, you can determine whether the use of RPE (Respiratory Protective Equipment) is necessary in the workplace.

There are many different RPE types designed to:

■ protect the wearer from a variety of hazards.

■ suit a variety of work situations.

■ match the specific requirements of the wearer.

It should be ensured that the RPE selected can protect the worker from the hazardous substance emitted into the working environment. The RPE selection will depend on the amount of hazardous substances in the air and their form (e.g., particles, vapour). The protection they offer will be determined by a variety of things, including the protection factor. For example, providing workers with RPE with an assigned protection factor of twenty, such as disposable FFP3 masks or half masks with P3 filters, are essential to preventing inhalation of hazardous construction dust.,

Alcumus SafeWorkforce can support you

With the HSE’s focus for 2024 now leaning towards dust exposure, businesses and employers must understand the risks and implement measures to reduce exposure. Every business has its own unique requirements. That's why SafeWorkforce is the perfect solution for businesses requiring tailored support and customised assessments for their specific health and safety challenges. Following a site inspection, SafeWorkforce can advise on implementing control methods such as safe working systems, partial enclosures, extraction equipment and RPE. Find out what support your business needs by completing our quick 45-second self-audit tool or learn more about our experienced consultants here.

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