Build Magazine April 2016

Build Magazine 58 n 2015, approximately 3,500 will die from cancer caused by past exposures to asbestos, 500 more from silica dust, another 5,500 will be diagnosed with occupational cancer, and – today alone – an unknown but significant number will breathe in the hazardous substances that will one day seriously affect their health or kill them 1 . Although construction dust poses a significant risk to workers, with the potential to cause serious long term damage to a person’s health, many construction workers are unaware or ill-informed of its effect on the body. This is also partly because many of the symptoms and health conditions that develop as a result of past exposure to construction dust may take several years to develop. As a result, the immediate consequence of potentially harmful workplace exposure levels are often dismissed or underestimated in comparison to the immediate impact of injuries in the workplace. By the time consideration is taken to past exposure it is often too late to reverse or halt the effects. The most common illnesses linked to breathing construction dust into the lungs include silicosis, lung cancers, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and occupational asthma. Silicosis is a progressive disease where accumulation of respirable crystalline silica particles in the lungs causes an inflammatory reaction, leading to tissue damage and scarring. This can progress, leading to complications that can result in disability or death. COPD, more commonly associated with smoking, is also a significant cause of occupational deaths. Individuals diagnosed with COPD suffer from an obstruction of the airways, which become inflamed and narrowed. Lung function is impaired and affected workers are often diagnosed with work-related emphysema or chronic bronchitis. 15% of all diagnosed COPD cases are work-related, resulting in around 4,000 deaths each year 2 . Limiting exposure The construction site environment presents a range of health risks, the nature and extent of which can vary between areas of the same site. As activities and materials on site are constantly changing, so must risk assessments and control measures put in place. This will ensure that construc- tion workers not only protect themselves from exposure to hazardous substances such as silica dust but also consider the effect of their work on those working in the surrounding area. The HSE outlines workplace exposure limits (WELs) to construction dust and other hazardous substances to limit exposure levels in the workplace. For silica dust, a guideline of no more than 10 milligrams per cubic metre (mg/m3) for inhalable dust and 4mg/m3 for respirable dust is set 3 . However it should be noted that there is no recommended ‘safe’ exposure level to construction dust, just varying levels of risk. As a result the law requires employers to manage construction dust exposure by ensuring that employees are inhaling levels well below guideline amounts. Breathing easier To assess which employees are at highest risk of exposure to construction dust a specialist advisor, such as an occupational hygienist, may be required to attend site and provide guidance on the level of risk posed by particular dusts. Activities where construction dust may be present in high concentrations include: Clearing the Air on Construction Dust Adam Willcock Product and Procurement Manager at Arco discusses the growing number of reported construction dust re- lated illnesses and how the industry can help to protect its over two million strong workforce from the risks of exposure. I