Cecilia has started working in construction. Her job includes using power tools to cut through drywall, wood flooring, and cement blocks. Although each of these tasks represents a small part of her daily work, they all expose her to airborne dust. Even when the tasks are brief, multiple short exposures to construction dust can result in ill health and harm Cecilia’s lungs. Learn more about the dangers of dust, and how Cecilia and workers like her can protect themselves from exposure.
Construction dust is a general term used to describe different dusts that you may find on a construction site. There are three main types:
- silica dust, created when working on silica-containing materials like concrete, mortar and sandstone (also known as respirable crystalline silica),
- wood dust, created when working on softwood, hardwood and wood-based products like MDF and plywood, and
- lower toxicity dusts, created when working on materials containing very little or no silica for example, gypsum (e.g., in drywall), limestone, marble and dolomite.
Each of these types of dust can be harmful.
Dust is not always an obvious hazard because the particles that do the most damage are not visible to the human eye and the health effects can take years to develop.
The main dust-related diseases affecting construction workers are:
- Lung cancer
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Some lung diseases, like advanced silicosis or asthma, can come on quite quickly. However, most of these diseases take a long time to develop. Dust can build up in the lungs, damage them gradually over time, and the effects are often not immediately obvious. Unfortunately, by the time most people notice that they have a problem the damage may already be serious and life changing, with permanent disability and even early death.
Managing and controlling exposure to dust is an ongoing challenge to the construction industry. Many workers are exposed daily, but often only work for short durations on various job sites and with frequently changing employers.
The amount of dust breathed in each day can seem small and insignificant. In some cases, the effects of exposure may be immediate but more often it can take years before the symptoms of ill health become apparent. As a result, respiratory risks are often overlooked, misunderstood, or underplayed.
Jobs at risk when done without the right controls include:
- Using a cut-off saw on curbs, blocks, paving slabs, roof tiles and other concrete products
- Chasing, scabbling or grinding concrete
- Drilling or coring for long periods, particularly indoors
- Abrasive pressure blasting
- Cutting and sanding wood with power tools
- Sanding plasterboard jointing
- Dry sweeping
When working at activities that create dust, you have an obligation to protect yourself and others working around you. If you are an employer, you need to develop effective dust control programs and improve awareness among your workers.
Assess the risks
The task, work area, time spent working, and frequency of the task can all lead to high dust levels. The more energy the work involves, the bigger the risk. High-energy tools like cut-off saws, grinders and grit blasters produce a lot of dust in a very short time. The more enclosed a space, the more the dust will build up. However, do not assume that dust levels will be low when working outside. The longer the work takes the more dust there will be. Regularly doing the same work day after day increases the risk.
Control the risk
Stopping the release of dusts should always be a priority. By eliminating dust, you eliminate the hazard. You may need to use a range of controls to manage the dust. They can include:
- Eliminate or reduce: Look at ways to stop or reduce the amount of dust you make before work starts. Design changes, using different materials, or using different tools or work methods can sometimes achieve the same result and create less dust.
- Control at source: When elimination or reduction can’t be done, it is important to stop the dust from getting into the air. Options include water suppression and on-tool extraction. Water can be used to damp down dust, and on-tool extraction removes the dust as you create it. Avoid dry sweeping and keep your tools and equipment in good working order.
- Respiratory protection: Some tasks produce so much dust that water suppression or on-tool extraction is not enough. In these cases, face masks or other respiratory protective equipment should be used. Like all personal protective equipment, respiratory protective equipment is the last line of protection and should always be used in combination with other controls.
- Training: Make sure workers are aware of the health risks associated with exposure to construction dusts and know what procedures to follow. Train them in the use and maintenance of any new equipment, and how to wear face masks correctly, maintain them and keep them clean.
- Other Controls: In some situations, you may need to combine these controls with other measures like keeping other people away from the work, stopping any dust from spreading with sheeting, rotating workers and/or ventilating the work area.
Wear your face mask
You are most at risk from the smallest dust particles that you cannot see. Not seeing them doesn’t mean they are not there. Even when you are keeping the dust down, you are still likely to need a face mask.
It is easy to use a mask badly which means it might not give you ANY protection. First, make sure that you have the right mask for the job. Then, have a fit test to make sure the mask is right for you. Learn how to wear it correctly so that the really fine dust cannot get in through any gaps, store it correctly, and know when it should be replaced.
Construction dust is not just a nuisance. It can seriously damage your health and affect your daily living. Some types of dust can kill. Make dust control a part of your everyday working practice.
Construction Dust (PDF), Health and Safety Executive
What are the Effects of Dust on the Lungs? fact sheet, CCOHS
Respirator Selection fact sheet, CCOHS
Personal Protective Equipment: The Basics e-course, CCOHS
Work Leaving You Breathless? : Work-related asthma and how to prevent it, Health and Safety Report Vol.10 Issue 1, CCOHS
Silica, quartz fact sheet, CCOHS
CITB – The Construction Dust Partnership (http://www.citb.co.uk/health-safety-and-other-topics/health-safety/construction-dust-partnership/), The Construction Industry Training Board
National Day of Mourning, April 28
April 28th is the National Day of Mourning in Canada. The flag on Parliament Hill will fly at half mast, we will pause, remember those who have lost their lives or been injured in the workplace, and reflect on how to prevent future tragedies. The Day of Mourning was officially recognized by the federal government in 1991, eight years after the day of remembrance was launched by the Canadian Labour Congress. This annual day has since spread to about 80 countries around the world and has been adopted by the AFL-CIO and the International Confederation of Free Trade.
You can show your support on Facebook with a Day of Mourning cover image or by wearing a Day of Mourning commemorative pin. To raise awareness you can download and display free posters in your workplace. Printed posters, pins and stickers are available at a nominal cost.
Steps for Life Walk 2016
With events starting Saturday April 30 and running throughout May in 35 cities across Canada, the Steps for Life 5 KM Walk will help kick off NAOSH Week 2016 (May 1-7, 2016). The event is not only fun, it also helps spread the message that workplace injuries and illnesses are preventable. Steps for Life is the major fundraising event for Threads of Life, a national charitable organization dedicated to supporting families who have suffered from a workplace fatality, life-altering illness or occupational disease, along their journey of healing.
The CCOHS team will once again be walking in the Hamilton event on April 30. Find the walk closest to you and put your team together. It will be a walk to remember.
Learn more about how you can participate from the Steps for Life website.
Health and Safety To Go
This month’s Health and Safety To Go! podcasts provide tips on workplace visibility and an encore featuring four things an organization needs to keep top of mind when creating and maintaining a safe work environment.
Feature Podcast: Tips on Worker Visibility
There is danger in the shadows. It could be working on a highway at night or in a loading bay at dusk. Low light and poor visibility can make it difficult to see workers, and this fact puts them at risk for serious injury or death. CCOHS provides tips on how high-visibility safety apparel can help workers be seen - and kept safe.
The podcast runs 5:20 minutes.
Encore Podcast: Safe Environments: What Workplaces Need to Know
Gerry Culina, Manager, General Health and Safety Services at CCOHS, talks about the four things an organization needs to keep top of mind when creating and maintaining a safe work environment.
The podcast runs 5:57 minutes.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
How well we can manage our own emotions and deal with the emotions of others are two important aspects of our emotional intelligence. From a definition by Dr. Reuven Bar-On, emotional intelligence is “an array of non-cognitive capabilities, competencies, and skills that influence our ability to succeed in coping with environmental demands and pressures.” Through practical examples, Sue Freeman explains what emotional intelligence means for personal and professional growth, developing successful teams and satisfying clients.
Gather in your meeting room with your co-workers for this free 30 minute webinar or watch it at your computer.
Can't make it to the live session? Register anyway so you can be emailed a link to the recorded session that you can watch on demand.
About the Presenter
Sue Freeman is a senior member of CCOHS' communications team, where she develops educational and marketing materials, administers the speaker bureau and conference program, and speaks on workplace mental health as part of CCOHS' Mental Health @ Work group. Certified as both an experiential psychotherapist and emotional intelligence coach, she brings a unique perspective to promoting social causes that benefit the health, safety and wellbeing of workers in Canada. Sue holds a Master's degree in Science-Marketing from the London School of Business and Finance and the University of Wales, Cardiff.
Presenter: Sue Freeman, CCOHS
Date: Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Time: 1:00 pm – 1:30 pm EDT
Length: 30 minutes
It's that time of year again when we check in with you to see how we're doing. We are continually making improvements to the Report based on feedback we receive from our readers. The Report is now emailed to more than 28,000 readers in more than 100 countries around the world every month.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2017, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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