News, Opinion

Reduce dust exposure risks with smarter technology

It is more important than ever for construction to share knowledge, best practice, technology and product innovations to support healthier and safer working environments, says Matias Jarnefelt.

Along with Covid-19 working restrictions, dust exposure is one of the biggest health and safety concerns the construction industry is facing.

There are multiple touch points in the construction process that generate dust and it is found on almost all jobsites. Very fine dust (also known as Respirable Crystalline Silica dust), poses a great risk for workers and the surrounding environment. Regular inhalation of dust particles causes an accumulation in the lungs, often leading to serious, long term health problems like asthma, lung cancer, COPD and silicosis.

Because of the routine interaction with applications that produce dust, construction workers have a higher risk of developing these diseases. According to statistics from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) for Great Britain, occupational lung diseases account for around 12,000 deaths estimated to be linked to past exposures at work, and further estimates point to dust being the cause of death for over 500 construction workers.

Carcinogen concern

With the reclassification of RCS as a carcinogen by the HSE, and a report by the All Party Parliamentary Group "Silica – The Next Asbestos" calling on the Government to take further legislative action on dust, we can see that the conversation around construction dust is gaining momentum. The growing evidence and research into the effects of dust show it’s time for construction businesses to act now.

Tackling dust at the source by using innovative tool technologies and dust suppression is crucial for businesses in the construction industry. When it comes to dust and Covid-19 working regulations, there is a lot to think about. On top of controlling dust, contractors need to consider physical distancing, tool maintenance and hygiene, while accounting for PPE availability, and the added focus on the detrimental effects of respiratory illness. However, there are solutions available that can help reduce dust exposure and assist with workplace management and productivity with the Covid-19 restrictions.

On-tool extraction and dust removal systems (DRS) maximise the amount of dust removed at source, so less time is needed to set up and clean down working areas before and after carrying out a job. Using DRS also support Covid-19 working restrictions, eliminating the numbers of people needed to carry out tasks with single-person operation solutions.

An HSE report, ‘Assessment of dust extraction system solutions on hand-held electric diamond cutters to BS EN 50632’ examines the effectiveness of tool manufacturers’ dust extraction systems, highlighting a clear distinction between the tools and that not all dust extraction systems are created equal. Out of the three tools tested, the mean respirable dust concentrations for system one (Hilti) measured 0.85 mg.m-3, followed by system two at 7.65 mg.m-3 and system three at 16.55 mg.m-3.  

Since the 1990s, Hilti is proud to have been developing a rich competence in virtually dust-free working. The Hilti Dust Research Centre in Germany plays a central role in ensuring that Hilti power tools are optimised to control dust, and we now have the technology to remove 99.8% of the dust at source, as the cut is being made.

Across the industry, it is more important than ever for companies to collaborate and share our knowledge, best practice, technology and product innovations, working together to support healthier and safer working environments for construction workers.

Matias Jarnefelt is managing director for Hilti Northern Europe and Great Britain.

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