What can employers do to reduce workers’ exposure to dust?


Exposure to one of the various forms of dust remains one of the biggest risks to the health of workers in the construction sector, and it is the quantity of dust concerned which elevates the risk to workers the most.

Dust on construction sites comes in three main forms: wood dust which is generated when softwood and hardwood timber or wood based products are cut or machined, Silica dust, which is created when working with materials containing Silica such as concrete, gritstone and slate, and other dust which is of less toxic, such as plasterboard dust.

Exposing workers to unsafe levels of concrete dust over a long period can result in respiratory diseases such as silicosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) developing. Workers who regularly work with wood and are not sufficiently protected are at risk of developing respiratory diseases as occupational asthma which can have a long-term impact on both a worker’s professional and personal lives.

According to the Labour Force Survey, about 36,000 people who worked in the last year, and 141,000 who had ever worked have breathing or lung problems that they thought were caused or made worse by work. In addition, it is estimated that there are 14,000 new cases of breathing or lung problems caused or made worse by work each year.

To add to the health risks posed to workers, companies and directors who fail to adequately control exposure face a very real risk of prosecution. In 2013 for example, the director of a London masonry company which has since been liquidated (Redmist International Ltd), was ordered to pay costs of £9,000 and given a suspended prison sentence for exposing workers to harmful stone dust. The decision followed a ruling that the director had breached Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and ignored two HSE notices requiring him to carry out improvements to the ventilation system.

Eleanor Ford of Callidus looks at what employers must do to reduce the risk of their workers suffering ill-health as a result of exposure to dust in the workplace.


Control of dust and COSHH 

Workers who frequently carry out tasks and use machinery or tools which generate dust as part of their process must be assessed to ensure they are not being exposed to unsafe levels of harmful dusts while they are at work.

In the UK, it is a legal requirement for all employers to:

  • Ensure that risks to employees from dust are controlled and assessed
  • Provide information, instruction and training to employees on the risk and the actions being taken to control risk; and provide suitable health surveillance.

What should you do?

  1. Undertake a risk assessment for the activity which is likely to generate dust and a COSHH assessment on the type of dust in question.
  2. Consider alternate work practices to eradicate the risk of inhaling dust at source (avoid cutting on site for example). Where this is not practicable, the risk should be reduced using appropriate control measures to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.
  3. Certify that you have appropriate measures in place for occupational health surveillance.
  4. Provide all operatives with suitable and sufficient information, instruction and training.

Should you need further assistance with the development of company procedures and safety systems of work relating to the control of dust or wish to discuss dust control in greater detail, do not hesitate to call Callidus Health & Safety Ltd on 0113 385 2740.

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