Silica Dust – is not just ‘any old dust’

According to HSE statistics occupational lung disease claims 12,000 lives a year so it comes as no surprise that the regulators have targeted construction dust with serious fines on companies who fail to manage the hazard effectively.

We’ve all witnessed the plumes of dust arising from contractors disc-cutting paving slabs in the high street, but this is not acceptable, for either the general public nor the workers. These circumstances demonstrate poor management of health and safety by their employer, and most likely inadequate supervision of the works. Regularly breathing in even small quantities of construction dust over time is proven to damage the lungs and airways causing lung diseases including cancers, silicosis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD), and occupational asthma. Unfortunately, as other types of cancer by the time the damage is noticeable the condition can be difficult to treat.

In December 2017, a London based building contractor, MY Construction & Carpentry Ltd was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay additional court costs after failing to plan, manage and monitor works under its control, leading to gross exposure of workers to Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS), otherwise known and referred as silica dust.

According to current HSE statistics, over 500 construction workers are believed to die from exposure to silica dust every year. It is the biggest occupational health risk to construction workers after asbestos. These statistics can be significantly reduced by those employers in control of the work through adequate planning, managing and monitoring of the work on site.

Under CDM15, designers in construction projects also have a role to play…  

Under Regulations 9 and 10 of CDM15, includes ‘the duty to eliminate, reduce or control foreseeable health and safety risks through the design process, such as those that may arise during construction work or in maintaining and using the building once it has been built’. Examples of such design would include for specifying the right sized construction materials so on-site cutting or preparation is eliminated, and having holes in materials pre-drilled off-site. Where this is not done, then on-site controls by contractors should include the prevention of airborne dusts, by use of on-tool extraction, damping down and use of H-type vacuums, ‘ban-the broom’ initiatives, etc.

Contractors who engage workers to hazardous environments must by law undertake a thorough risk assessment, and where the risks cannot be suitably controlled should engage in Occupational Health Surveillance programmes for their workforce. Refer to the HSE website, for more information.

We, at Emerald Health & Safety Services Ltd are in a position to advise further as part of our CDM Principal Designer project services, or as construction Health & Safety advisory services on your next construction project.

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