Costain is launching new guidance on preventing and controlling exposure to silica dust on its construction sites.
The move follows an HSE blitz on small sites that found high levels of non-compliance with current guidance, as well as a campaign in Hazards magazine calling on the HSE to halve the allowable limit in the UK in line with a new, tougher limit proposed by US regulators.
The HSE estimates that roughly 600 to 1,000 people die from work-related respirable crystalline silica [RCS] exposure every year, although this includes other industries as well as construction.
Inhaling silica dust while drilling or cutting products such as concrete or mortar can lead to lung diseases including silicosis, an inflammation and scarring of the lungs. It has also been linked to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and renal failure.
Cutting concrete can lead to dangerous exposure to silica dust
Costain’s new three-part guidance will be launched on 1 September. The first theme is dust extraction, ensuring that power tools are fitted with a local exhaust ventilation system, to prevent dust getting into the atmosphere in the first place.
Veronica Robins, health and well-being manager, said: “Secondly, we will be reinforcing the requirement for all workers wearing tight fitting protective masks to be ‘face fit tested’, which is a means of assessing how well a mask seals to a face. [Male] workers need to be clean shaven to get a good seal and avoid leaks.”
The third strategy is called “lose the broom”. Robins explained: “Dry sweeping creates huge amounts of dust, particularly indoors. We will be encouraging the use of vacuum cleaners. If brooms have to be used, then the material should be damped down first.”
Costain’s anti-dust campaign is being supported by its equipment supplier, Speedy, which will be offering demonstrations of vacuum sweepers and on-tool extraction systems.
In addition, health champions on each site will work to get the anti-dust message across to the workforce.
The UK and US currently share the same 0.1mg per cubic metre workplace exposure standard for RCS. However, the US regulator, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA], says that this standard is based on research that is over four decades old, and last year proposed reducing it to 0.05mg per m3.
According to Hazards magazine, the UK’s HSE has argued that technological limitations make monitoring below current exposure standards difficult.
But Chris Chapman, head of CDM at Building Safety group, told CM that raising levels of compliance with the current standard is a more effective means of combatting the health problems linked to RCS than reducing the exposure limit to levels that many would find unattainable.
“If you’re using a petrol-driven saw outside, suppressing the dust with water is totally effective. However, the problem is with the people working indoors, who’re using electric power tools and have to use vacuum systems – extraction is less efficient than water.”