Did you know that every week construction workers die from lung diseases caused by exposure to dust and many more suffer from severe chronic long-term lung conditions?
During the past few weeks inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have been visiting construction sites across Great Britain to deliver an awareness campaign to highlight the risks posed by inhaling hazardous substances at work, such as dust.
They have also been carrying out health-related site inspections during their visits.
Why are construction workers at a greater risk from developing lung disease?
Construction workers have a high risk of developing lung diseases because many common construction tasks – such as cutting paving blocks, kerbs, flags and roof tiles, grinding, sweeping and cutting and sanding wood – can create high dust levels.
These diseases cause permanent disability and early death. Over 500 construction workers are believed to die from exposure to silica dust every year.
This campaign to raise awareness about lung disease couldn’t have come at a more opportune time as this month is Lung Cancer Awareness Month which is a global campaign designed to encourage people to visit their doctor if they are experiencing any of the symptoms of lung cancer.
Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK and the most common cause of cancer death in the UK for both men and women, claiming almost 35,000 lives a year.
Early diagnosis is key to boosting survival rates, but not enough people are taking their symptoms seriously until it is too late.
The charity, the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, is amongst those backing the campaign and has come up with a Spot the Difference campaign to help people spot subtle differences in their health to enable them to go for help sooner.
Hopefully, campaigns like this will make a difference to lung disease rates but it’s important that employers play their part as well.
What can construction sites do to tackle lung disease?
It’s vital that construction firms make sure control measures are put in place to either prevent or limit exposure to hazardous substances which could cause ill health.
To help employers, the HSE has released a wealth of information on its website about the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH). It also has a separate section on its website dedicated to correctly managing construction dust because it poses such as risk to people’s lungs.
Construction firms should make sure they are aware of the risks to their workers on site and look for ways to limit the amount of dust before work begins.
For example, use the right size of building materials so less cutting is required, if possible use nail guns in place of drilling holes and use water to damp down dust clouds. You can also use industrial vacuum units to suck dust away as it is being created.
Even if you are taking all the necessary steps to reduce the impact of dust sometimes you need to go even further to make sure people don’t develop lung disease.
This is because some tasks are so dusty that – even with lots of precautions in place – enough dust will escape into the air and become a risk to people’s health.
In these instances, it is vital that workers use some form of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) which often comes in the form of a mask.
It is essential you use RPE for high risk tasks such as using a cut-off saw, grinder or wall chaser on material containing silica, using powered cross-cut saws and sanders on hardwood, red cedar or MDF or if you are sanding softwood in an enclosed space.
Masks offer different levels of protection. Generally speaking, if you are working with construction dusts you should use FFP2 or FFP3 masks. It is advisable to use the FFP3 mask if the work can create high levels of dust or involves more hazardous substances such as wood dust or silica.
If you want to find out more about RPE the HSE has produced a guide on how to choose the right RPE.
Are people at risk from lung disease if they are working outside?
People often think construction dust doesn’t pose a problem if they are working outside because the dust will blow away but sadly this doesn’t mean they are safe.
Many tasks involve people working close to the part of a tool where the dust is being made. With very dusty tasks this means that they can still breathe in a lot of harmful dust even if the wind blows some of it away.
Where can I go to get help?
There is lots of advice available on the HSE website to help employers but we understand that the sheer amount of information available can in itself cause a headache for bosses trying to manage their health and safety needs whilst running their day-to-day business.
At Acorn, all our Construction Design & Management consultants and health and safety consultants – as a minimum – hold Incorporated Membership (IMaPS) and membership of either IIRSM (International Institute of Risk and Safety Management or IOSH (Institution of Occupational Safety and Health).
We have worked on projects across all sectors including education, residential, aviation, rail, commercial, retail, healthcare and leisure; with extensive experience in all forms of contract arrangements including PFI, Design & Build and Construction Management. So, you can be confident that we have the expertise, knowledge and experience to assist you whatever your project is, big or small.
We also provide construction safety inspections and audits for all types of constructions site across the UK.
And, if you’re not sure if your business and employees are at risk, we offer a free 30-minute health and safety surgery via video call. This helps you to discuss and diagnose any health and safety compliance issues and can be booked by clicking here.
So, don’t leave your workers at risk from lung disease or your business at risk from prosecution because it hasn’t managed its health and safety requirements properly – contact us today.