The HSE periodically undertake campaigns for various topics. A recent campaign was to look into occupational ill health issues, particularly those caused by silica dust.
Crystalline silica is a basic component of soil, sand, granite and many other minerals, Quartz being the most common form of crystalline silica.
Regularly breathing construction dust can cause diseases like Lung Cancer, Asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Silicosis. Construction workers have a high risk of developing these diseases due to many common construction tasks creating high dust levels.
Workplace exposure limits (WEL) for Silica (respirable crystalline from construction products) are given at 0.1mg/m3 which is much lower than hard or softwood (5mg/m3 ).
This might not mean much, but essentially what it means is that you have a duty to protect your employees from even the smallest amounts of Silica. It is unlikely that you will have a process that generates silica at levels below the WEL, so controls will be necessary at all times.
The sort of tasks/processes where this exposure could arise could be :
- Stripping out buildings
- Demolition of structures
- Moving old objects to skips
- Housekeeping (sweeping up)
- Cutting materials (wood dust / silica from concrete products)
- Cabling in roof spaces
- Stripping off tiles from roofs
Adequate controls must be in place to prevent ill health to personnel.
Your task, or dynamic risk assessment, will define the controls needed for the activity and will be combined with preventing dust causing issue with the individual and others working in the vacinity.
As a recent example, one of our clients had employed a Sub-contractor on a construction site. The Sub-contractor wasn’t actually doing any work which generated silica dust at the time of the visit. They had, however, been sawing through some materials. On closer inspection, it was apparent that:
- the Sub-contractor’s controls included damping down with water, however this hadn’t been done
- PPE / RPE was available but there was no face fit record to show that the mask fitted the user
- the employee was not clean shaven, which meant that the RPE / PPE in use would not have been effective
The Inspector commented that the site was well run but the Principal Contractor (PC) is in charge of the sub-contractors, as well as their own Employees; they should make sure they are following their high standards.
No Fee for Intervention (FFI) or Improvement Notice was issued but the Inspector said, “If I had witnessed them dry cutting I would have issued a Prohibition Notice to the Principal Contractor for not managing the site properly and the Sub-contractor for exposing the Employee to hazardous substances.”
The Site Management has a hard job, running the site, controlling costs and time, but must keep health and safety a top priority and ensure a high standard at all times to keep all on the site safe.
If you would like help managing the health and safety at your workplace, please contact our team for a chat on 01302 341 344.
By Richard Wadkin CMIOSH– Risk Consultant