Construction sites have many different hazards present and dust can be one of them. Dust can cause a variety of issues from health concerns to physical hazards for workers who are exposed to it. It is important to know and understand the issues that dust on a construction site can cause and what safety steps you can take to control dust exposure.
What is construction dust?
Construction dust is a general term used to describe different types of dust that you may find on a construction site. Construction dust is not just a nuisance, it can also seriously damage your health and some types can even kill you. Regularly breathing these specks of dust over a long period of time can cause lung issues and even diseases.
The three main types of construction dust are:
- Silica dust: this is created when working on silica-containing materials like concrete, mortar, and sandstone
- Wood dust: this is created when working on softwood, hardwood, and wood-based products such as MDF and plywood
- Lower toxicity dust: this is created when working on materials containing very little or no silica; the most common include gypsum, limestone, marble, and dolomite
Dust Health Hazards
Everyone on a job site should know the damage construction dust can do to the lungs and airways.
The main dust-related diseases affecting construction workers are:
- Lung cancer
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease COPD
Some of these diseases such as asthma and advanced siliceous can develop rather quickly. However, most of these diseases take a long time to develop.
Dust can build up in the lungs and gradually over time harm you. These effects are not often seen immediately and unfortunately by the time it is noticed the total damage done may already be serious and life-threatening. Construction workers are at a greater risk of developing issues associated with dust because many common construction tasks can create high dust levels.
It is believed that over 500 construction workers die every year from exposure to silica dust.
Assessing Dust Hazards on the Construction Site
Before starting a project, it is important to assess the many dust hazards and risks that are linked to construction work and materials.
High dust levels can be caused by several factors, including:
- Task: the more energy the work involves the bigger the risk
- High-energy tools like cut-off saws, grinders, and grit blasters can produce an abundance of dust in a short amount of time
- Work Area: the more enclosed space leads to more chance of dust build-up; however, dust levels can also be high when working outside
- Time: the longer the work takes the most dust there will be on the job
- Frequency: doing the same work day after day also increases risks associated with dust.
Dust Safety Best Practices
You can use some of the following safety measures to control the risks involved with working around construction dust.
1. Stop Or Reduce Dust
Before you start on a new job, look at ways to stop or reduce the amount of dust you might make. You can use different materials or less powerful tools.
- Use the right size of building materials so less cutting or preparation is needed
- Use silica-free abrasives to reduce dust when cutting
- Use less powerful tools, like a block splitter instead of a cut-off saw
Try different methods of work, like a direct fastening system to reduce dust.
2. Control The Dust
If you are unable to completely stop the dust there are ways to reduce the dust that is getting into the air. There are two main ways of accomplishing dust control:
- WATER: the use of water can damp down dust clouds. It just needs to be used correctly. You would need to make sure that enough water is being supplied at the right levels for the whole time that the work is being done, just wetting your materials will not help.
- ON-TOOL EXTRACTION: this can remove dust as it is being produced. One type is the local exhaust ventilation (LEV) system that can fit directly onto a tool. This system consists of several parts including, the tool, extraction unit, and tubing.
3. Wear Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)
RPE equipment can also help with dust when water or on-tool extraction cannot reduce the exposure enough. If you are using RPE you need to make sure it is adequate for the amount and type of dust you are being exposed to.
RPE has an assigned protection factor also called an ADF which shows how much protection it gives to the person wearing it. The general level for construction dust is an ADF of 20. This means the person who is wearing the mask only breaths one-twentieth of the amount of dust in the air. When working with some woods, you can also use an APF of 10 if the dust risk is lower.
When wearing respiratory protective equipment, it’s important for RPE to be:
- Suitable for Work: disposable masks or half masks can become uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time.
- RPE can help minimize the discomfort when worn for extended periods
- Compatible: RPE should be compatible with other items types of PPE being worn
- Fits the user: make sure the masks are tight-fitting on the face
- Worn Correctly: follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure proper usage
It is also important to remember that RPE is the last line of protection against construction dust. For an RPE to work appropriately it is important to also know what type (species) of wood you are working with.
Review & Follow Dust Safety Controls
Your work site may already have dust safety controls in place, but it is crucial that they are all working together properly.
You can help with this by:
- Following procedures
- Monitor dust exposure
- Identify supervisors of issues
- Maintain equipment
- Replace disposable masks if needed
- Properly clean, store and maintain non-disposable RPE
- Exam on-tool extraction systems regularly
Dust Safety Starts With You
Considering the dust hazards that can be created on the worksite is the first step to preventing injuries. Realize the health issues as well as the physical issues and protect yourself and your coworkers. If you have an injury related to dust please notify your supervisor immediately so proper medical treatment can be administered.