Constructing a healthier site: dust risks
The CDP argues that more needs to be done to protect workers from the long-term health effects of construction dust. Helen Donnelly explains how new research findings can help improve sites.
Results from an industry survey conducted jointly by IOSH and the Construction Dust Partnership (CDP) (Interface, page 21, SHP February 2015) provides an insight into the awareness of on-site dust risks and how they are controlled.
The questions covered a number of areas, including risk awareness and control measures. The results paint a picture of an industry that needs to do more in many areas.
The CDP plan to use these results as a benchmark from which to direct new initiatives and awareness-raising projects and measure improvements in attitude and behaviours as a result.
In particular the results highlight that companies need to give this a higher priority and improve risk awareness among workers. With only 17 per cent of respondents feeling that workers were involved in discussions about dust-related risks, it is not surprising they also felt that worker compliance with dust control measures was poor as a result. Frighteningly, less than 3 per cent felt that construction workers were fully aware of the risks associated with construction dust.
The majority of those surveyed indicated that dust risk reduction was never or rarely considered at design stage. To help address this, the CDP has approached designers to identify useful case studies and to promote designing out dust as a priority within their sector.
More positively, nearly half of respondents believed water suppression was provided to workers most or all of the time when needed, with a further 38 per cent saying it was used sometimes. Comments suggest a growing acceptance that water suppression is simple, effective and “should be commonplace on site”. While this is generally a mandatory requirement by principal contractors on larger sites, regular use declined on transient sites such as streetworks, where supervision is more of a challenge.
In contrast, only a fifth believed on-tool extraction of dust was applied most or all of the time where it would be expected, while two thirds said it was used rarely or never. Similar response levels were given when asked if the on-tool extraction systems provided are right for the task.
“The report clearly details that not only is the use of extraction and dust suppressant equipment not appropriately used, but that there is a confused picture about its availability, effectiveness and suitability for different tasks,” said Jane White, head of research and information services at IOSH.
“There is a serious gap in information, instruction and training that we must rectify.”
Tackling this issue, CDP members representing hire companies and power tool manufacturers are developing new guidance for the CDP website, de-mystifying on-tool extraction requirements to assist businesses, particularly SMEs, when purchasing or hiring the equipment, using it effectively and keeping it maintained.
Results for use of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) are more positive, with over half of those surveyed saying it was provided most or all of the time. However, while similar numbers feel that the right specification of mask is provided for the job being undertaken, less than a fifth believe that individuals actually receive face fit testing for the masks they wear.
As it is the finer dust particles that do the most harm, the report highlights that more needs to be done to ensure workers wear a face-fitted mask and are not breathing in dust through gaps between the mask and their face. Through the CDP, manufacturers and suppliers are looking at how better to educate the industry in the importance of selecting the right RPE, wearing it correctly and ensuring that masks fit properly.
Unfortunately, people are still over-reliant on respiratory equipment. Comments stated that RPE was still “viewed as the traditional answer” and “tends to be the first line of defence” whereby “most contractors believe they have done enough to protect the worker”. While jobs that create high levels of exposure will still require a correctly fitted mask, the priority should always focus on an alternative approach that doesn’t create dust, or failing that, tools should be used with water suppression or dust extraction to control the release of dust at source.
It is time to acknowledge that dust is a health risk that impacts on every person working on site, including colleagues and other contractors who are not in a position to control the risk. While a mask will only protect the individual, keeping dust down in the first place protects everyone, both during the task and from the needless job of cleaning up afterwards.
Members of the CDP are working together and individually to promote simple, effective precautions. UK Contractors Group’s (UKCG) recent initiative, encouraging contractors to “bin the broom”, for example, serves to highlight the harmful effects of dry sweeping, which inevitably throws respirable dust back into the air. The CDP also wants to highlight the benefits of clean construction, which it argues makes sense for a number of reasons, including the prolonged life of tools and consumables, a speedier job, happier clients and neighbours.
The challenge for the industry is to move from a culture where dust is seen as an unavoidable nuisance created as a by-product of everyday work, to one where dust is unacceptable because it causes hundreds of needless deaths every year. As the report concludes: “The industry creates this risk. It now needs to acknowledge it, own it and deal with it.”
For more information, including the full report, visit: www.citb.co.uk/cdp
Helen Donnelly is manager of the Construction Dust Partnership
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