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September 13, 2017

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3M’s George Elliott on construction dust hazards

(Image: George Elliott, 3M technical specialist)

Science-based technology company 3M recently joined forces with the Construction Dust Partnership (CDP) and Dustcontrol UK for a collaborative webinar about construction dust hazards and appropriate control methods.

The free webinar was led by 3M technical specialist George Elliott and Phil Haskins, of Dustcontrol UK. SHP followed up with George afterwards for an exclusive interview on the topic.

What was the idea behind the three organisations collaborating for this webinar?

The CDP’s members range from industry bodies to manufacturers, and have come together with the same aim – to raise awareness of construction dust hazards and control measures that can reduce exposure. 3M offered to use its existing Safety Spotlight Webinar Series to help promote the group’s shared message through a collaborative webinar.

The goal of the 3M Safety Spotlight Webinar Series is to educate people about the hazards they face and how to mitigate them, so our goals aligned perfectly with the CDP’s.

Why is controlling hazardous construction dust such an important issue?

To put it bluntly, construction dust kills. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 43 workers were fatality injured in the UK construction sector in 2015/16 as a result of workplace accidents[1]. This is a frightfully high number. However, it is less than a tenth of the number of deaths of construction workers as a result of exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS). The HSE estimates that RCS is responsible for around 500 deaths a year in the UK construction sector, or nearly 10 a week[2].

Also, most workers understand why they need to wear a hard hat, or fall protection equipment if they’re working at height, because the risks are pretty obvious and can be easily visualised. Construction dust, on the other hand, is something of a hidden killer, as the potentially fatal respiratory diseases it causes are typically the result of years of exposure.

Have you found that awareness of this issue is growing? If so, why?

The CDP is doing excellent work to increase awareness of this issue, which is why initiatives like our collaborative webinar are so important. However, we mustn’t be complacent, as there is always more we could be doing.

What can companies/employers/health and safety managers do to control construction dust hazards?

When faced with an industrial hazard, health and safety managers will look to reduce risks to the lowest practicable levels. Typically, they will consider and employ the following hierarchy of controls:

The first control to consider is elimination – can you eliminate the hazard in the first place? The second is substitution – could you substitute the building material or tool equipment you’re using for something less hazardous? Next is engineering controls – for example, could you use water suppression to dampen down the dust and stop it becoming airborne, or alternatively use on-tool extraction to remove the majority of dust at source?

Then comes administration – if someone doesn’t need to be in the hazardous area, make sure they aren’t. Some companies are now using designated cutting areas on site, in order to contain dust to one area. Finally, personal protective equipment (PPE) control measures should always be seen as the last line of defence. With silica dust in particular, the HSE suggest that a minimum assigned protection factor (APF) of 20 is required.

What role does training and education have to play?

Training and education is important for increasing employees’ awareness of the potential hazards they face. Those who understand the risks are far more likely to properly use the control measures available to them on site, such as extraction systems and respiratory protective equipment.

Where can people find additional resources?

The CDP’s website – – is full of useful resources. For example, the website contains a ‘toolbox talk’ that’s easy for health and safety managers and others to download and present to workers.

The CDP also provides downloadable posters, which help to raise awareness of the consequences of not wearing respiratory protective equipment, for example, or not putting other control measures in place. There are also case studies on the website, giving examples of companies that have controlled dust on site using best practice methods – which could potentially be replicated.

What has 3M got planned for its next webinar?

The next webinar in the 3M Safety Spotlight Webinar Series will be titled ‘Introduction to hearing protection equipment (HPE)’, and will run from 11.00 to 11.45 on 13 September. It will be led by my colleague Simon Field, another 3M technical specialist.

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