HSE cracking down on dangerous construction dust: How can this affect your project?

Published: October 1, 2021
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The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is set to start cracking down on construction sites that fail to protect workers from potentially dangerous dust. Inspectors are to start attending more than 1,000 construction sites in the UK from October 4th to check safety standards relating to dust.

For a month, the inspectors will be looking at how sites are protecting workers from dust that could be harmful to their health. Particular focus will be on protecting workers from wood, asbestos and silica dust.

Why is HSE focusing on dust at construction sites?

Regularly breathing construction dust can cause health issues, breathing problems and terminal diseases, many of which do not get diagnosed for years after exposure. Failure to protect workers from dangerous dust puts them at risk of diseases like lung cancer, silicosis, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Construction workers are at a higher risk of developing these diseases because a large number of common construction tasks create a lot of dust. This means that construction workers are at risk of death or permanent disability due to on-site dust.

For example, it is estimated that over 500 construction workers die every year as a result of exposure to silica dust, which is generated when cutting bricks and stones. In 2010, this led MPs to call for silica dust to be treated like asbestos and also for the legal limit for exposure in the workplace to be halved.

Sarah Jardine, HSE’s chief inspector of construction, said: ‘Around 100 times as many workers die from diseases caused or made worse by their work than are actually killed in construction accidents.

‘Our inspection initiatives ensure that inspectors are able to speak to duty holders and visit sites to look at the kind of action businesses in the construction industry are taking right now to protect their workers’ health, particularly when it comes to exposure to dust and damage to lungs. These are mature health challenges that the industry ought to be managing effectively.’

How is the HSE assessing sites for dust?

HSE inspectors will be carrying out spot checks at all types of sites, covering small domestic refurbishments and large commercial projects alike. The checks will examine whether work has been planned and designed with safety measures in place to protect workers from dangerous dust.

Inspectors will look for evidence that shows employers and workers know the risks of dust, are planning their work accordingly and are using the correct controls. Enforcement will be used, if needed, to make sure people are protected.

While dangerous dust will be a focus of these inspections, inspectors will also be looking to identify any other areas of concern. These include immediate safety risks, and inspectors will take action to deal with any issues they identify.

How does safety planning affect your estimates?

All safety equipment, from training to personal protection equipment, that is being used on a project needs to be planned for and included in estimates to ensure costs are covered.

Employers have a duty of care to protect workers from construction dust and so need to plan ways to reduce harmful exposure – such as on-tool extraction, wearing the correct masks and watering down cutting areas. Failure to plan and enforce these steps and equipment can result in hefty HSE fines and projects being temporarily shut down, both of which can have a large impact on costs.

Hiring a construction cost consultant can help ensure that all the costs related to safety equipment are covered so that sites are safe and projects deliver a budget as planned.