dust from grinding

Dust and airborne contaminants remain a serious threat to workers

Posted on 27th Oct, 2021 | By Lorretta Tatham

Each year over 3500 builders die each year from cancers relating to dust and working conditions, with thousands more suffering serious ill-effects and life-long health problems. This October the Health and Safety Executive is cracking down on the dangers of dust in the workplace. It’ll do this by attending more than 1000 construction sites over the course of the month targeting working conditions that could cause a serious negative effect on workers’ health.

Dust and airborne contaminants pose a number of potent and often underestimated risks. One of these is obviously respiratory issues in much the same way as asbestos. (That’s exactly what our asbestos awareness training course is for.)

The number of construction workers who die from diseases caused – or made worse – by their work is around 100 times the number of those killed in construction accidents, and it is this research that has pushed the HSE to act. In addition to the respiratory and long-term health issues it can cause, dust can also pose actual explosive hazards – another key reason why it can be so potentially deadly.

How does the new HSE initiative affect me?

That’s a good question. Throughout October, the HSE representatives have been keeping a keener eye on airborne contaminants. This means stricter inspections and a stronger legislative approach to the issue, with fines and even possible closure being a potential punishment. Whether or not you’ve already been visited, it’s worth taking the time to keep your sites as clean as possible, and ensure that your employees have the best level of equipment and support to stop them falling ill or being hurt. The initiative has been focused not just on training levels and individual staff responsibility, but also on proper cleaning procedures and the maintenance of detailed records, including key documents such as risk assessments.

construction ppe

What you can do to help

There are actions both employees and employers can take. Be aware of the risks associated with activities you do every day, recognise the dangers of hazardous dust and consider how it can affect your health. Being proactive and constantly assessing the risk of each site is important. Being in constant dialogue with staff as well as doing spot checks can allow your site manager to identify risk before it becomes too big a problem. If the site is indoors, with a level of dust contamination, ensure staff allow air through the building, and have a realistic cleaning programme in place.

Equipment such as face masks, earphones, and helmets will help to keep your staff safe. Proper PPE should be sourced and provided on time for each job.

Another tip would be to avoid windy conditions, or plan for them in advance. Laying dust is less dangerous than particles in the air, and are more easily breathed in. For sites at height or where wind is excessive, either stop working or provide considerable dust protection. If possible, use windbreaking material to minimise dust movement.

It’s also worth re-evaluating your staff training procedures, and ensuring that everyone is fully aware of their own remits and responsibilities, and what they can do to minimise the danger that dust may pose to them or their colleagues.

And speaking of training, if you need any additional support with keeping your staff’s skills and knowledge sharp, that’s exactly where we can help here at Browns Safety. Our experts offer a range of services training courses on working at heightaccess equipment, and abrasive wheels. You can book your own place on each of the pages listed above, or contact us directly by calling 01282 615517 or emailing info@brownssafetyservices.co.uk.

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