Controlling construction dusts has really hit the headlines as a requirements in recent years – and with good reason. Deaths related to dust inhalation through COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and the effects of exposure to RCS (respirable crystalline silica) are estimated to be in the thousands each year. HSE estimates that over 100 people are estimated to die every week compared to 1 person or less per week from physical risks on construction sites (falling from height and similar).
Controlling dusts is often through simple measures such as water suppression and wearing appropriate masks which have been face fit tested but there are times when you can’t use wet cutting methods – in these circumstances you’ll need to capture the dust at source. The next question is what do you use? The answer is certainly not a Henry vacuum ( as much as we like them and yes, we do have one in the office!).
Effective capture of construction dust needs something intended and designed for that purpose and capable of withstanding rough usage. Using a poorly specified extractor will simply makes things worse – much worse – by capturing the dust only to blow large amounts of the fine dust into the atmosphere for you and all around you to breathe in, not what you want to achieve and something guaranteed to get you some attention from HSE and their Fee for Intervention scheme…
Controlling exposure to construction dusts
Firstly, there is some really good information available from the HSE, primarily in the form of the CIS Sheets; Controlling construction dust with on-tool extraction CIS69 – HSE being your first port of call in this case. This gives a reasonably in-depth summary of what you need to review and consider but for the purpose of this blog we’re going to make things as simple as possible and also aim them at what we think our clients would most like to know.
With this in mind we are working with our clients to address these risks, educate their staff through training courses and toolbox talks and also running free sessions on the risks associated with construction dusts and how to manage them. Check out this link for the talk which we gave to WWT (the HSE and Construction industry partnership organisation).
Key steps to controlling construction dust
- Capture at source: this means having a hood on the machine connected to your extraction unit which is as close as possible to the cutting /abrading point. It should cover as much of the tool as it can reasonably cover without causing an obstruction as that will make it more effective;
- Use the right extraction equipment: this means an industrial vacuum designed for the purpose, there are 3 choices (HML) High, Medium of Low and the choice you make depends on the dust created from high for work which produces hazardous dusts like respirable crystalline silica to low on dusts which are less inherently harmful with plaster and gypsum being good examples;
- Remember extraction can’t capture every bit of dust: very fine dust will always find a way to escape and respirable crystalline silica dust is again a good example, it’s so fine even wet cutting won’t reduce it to a safe level and so make sure that you and those trades around you are wearing good quality, face fitted RPE to FFP3 standard. If you need face fit tests then please call us on 01453 800100 and we can arrange this through one of our Fit2Fit Face Fit testers;
- Consider neighbouring trades: consider those around you and also those who might have to clean up. Don’t control all of your dust exposure at the time of cutting only to expose everyone when the area is cleaned – use wet capture or clean dust using the same class of vacuum and using the same protective equipment you used for cutting;
- Make sure it’s used consistently: even short term exposure is hazardous and build up over time, a bit like noise exposure does. Small repeated exposures without adequate protection build up over a working life to serious health problems and can lead to terrible debilitating diseases like COPD and cancers, so use good practices each and every time, even for short duration work;
- Make sure it’s maintained correctly before each use by:
- checking it is in good working order (not damaged) before work starts;
- following the method of work described in your RAMS (risk assessments / method statements);
- using the equipment in the right way. Follow manufacturer’s instructions;
- ensuring the captor hood is as close as possible to the work surface;
- ensuring the tubing has a good connection to both the captor hood and extraction unit. Use an adaptor if needed, not tape;
- emptying the extraction unit regularly. Use the correct disposable waste bags. Seal and place in the right waste container. Do not empty these bags to recycle them;
- cleaning the equipment regularly (eg wipe down daily). Do not let dust build up on working parts such as internal motors and associated vents;
- Once a week do a more formal look over to check the following;
- damage to parts of the system such as the hood or ducting. Repair or replace straight away;
- maintaining the extraction unit’s flow of air. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Check that the airflow indicator and any built-in cleaning mechanism work properly. Replace filters when needed;
- replacing worn cutting discs.
- Once every 14 months have the equipment thoroughly inspected by a competent person, this is known as a Thorough Examination and Test (TExT).
Watch our video to find out more;