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The dangers of construction dust

Recent HSE research has estimated that silica may be responsible for the deaths of over 500 people each year who have worked in construction. HSE also estimates that around 4,000 people die every year from COPD linked to work. Construction workers are one of the at-risk groups within this because of the dust that they breathe. So, construction dust is not just a nuisance – it can seriously damage your health.

Regularly breathing in these dusts over a long time can cause life-changing lung diseases.Construction Dust is a general term used to what may be found on a construction site but there are actually three main types; silica dust, non-silica dust and wood dust.

Silica is a natural mineral present in large amounts in things like sand, sandstone and granite. It is also commonly found in many construction materials such as concrete and mortar. The silica is broken into very fine dust (also known as Respirable Crystalline Silica or RCS) during many common tasks such as cutting, drilling and grinding. It is often called silica dust (see also Control of exposure to silica dust: A guide for employees).

There are a number of construction products where silica is either not found or present in very low amounts. The most common ones include gypsum, cement, limestone, marble and dolomite. This dust is also mixed with silica dust when cutting things like bricks.

Wood is widely used in construction and is found in two main forms; softwood and hardwood. Wood-based products are also commonly used including MDF and chipboard (see also Wood dust).

Anyone who breathes in these dusts should know the damage they can do to the lungs and airways. The main dust related diseases affecting construction workers are lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and asthma. These are the real dangers of construction dust.

While some kinds of lung disease like advanced silicosis can come on quite quickly, most take a long time. Often this is over years. They happen because during this time regularly breathing even small amounts of dust adds-up and damages the lungs and airways. Unfortunately, by the time you notice the damage is often done and it is more difficult to treat.

Download the free HSE Information Sheet Construction Dust

The information sheet is for employers. It tells you what you need to know to prevent or adequately control the risks from construction dust.

Visit the HSE’s Health and safety in the construction industry

Contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0

 

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