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In the home, dust is a real nuisance. No mater how much you seem to clean and polish, there’s an endless supply of it settling and making the place look untidy. However, as well as being an inconvenience, excessive dust in the home can have health impacts, especially for those with respiratory problems or for small children. So, imagine what the consequences must be when you multiply this to an industrial scale. That’s the danger facing anyone working in construction and frequently exposed to construction dust.

Construction dust is a general term that is given to the small particles found on construction sites that are stirred up or created by action. There are three main types of construction dust: silica dust, non-silica dust and wood dust.                                                                                                                                                                    

Silica is a mineral that’s found in many construction materials, including glass, sand and granite. When working with any of these materials, the silica is ground into fine particles called respirable crystalline silica (RCS). The non-silica dust is formed in the same way – when cutting, sawing or chopping – but from materials like cement and limestone which don’t contain silica. Wood dust comes from wood and wood-based products such as MDF.

Large scale or repeated exposure to this dust can be very harmful in a number of ways. The constant breathing in of these small particles into the lungs can cause a number of very serious conditions, such as cancer, silicosis (from high RCS exposure) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). Most of the conditions are caused by repeated exposure over long periods, gradually worsening and building up in the lungs. Unfortunately, by the time you notice the symptoms of conditions like asthma it is often too late and harder to treat.

However, the health risks don’t just stop at the development of long-term and chromic health conditions. The Health and Safety Executive believes that around 500 deaths a year are caused due to dust exposure in the construction injury. A further 4,000 people a year may die from COPD-related diseases.

Thanks to the large-scale use of power tools and machinery on site, the amounts of dust produced are now greater than they have ever been before. Grinders, electric saws and blasters produce huge amounts of dust in short spaces of time. Working in enclosed spaces can also make the problem more severe.

What is even more concerning to anyone who works on dusty construction sites is that the amounts of harmful dust it is safe to inhale each day is very small, the equivalent to just a few grains of salt. While there are legal limits in place to do with inhalation of construction dust, these are very hard to measure and enforce.

In order to limit exposure you should only use amounts of the material you need, work in a well-ventilated or outdoor area when possible or look for alternative methods of achieving your aims. If possible, use water to damp down the dust or vacuum extraction if available.

Of course, a quality protective dust mask, as well as goggles, are absolutely essential at all times when working on a site. With different levels of protection available, use at least a FFP2, or preferably an FFP3, for the best protection.


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