Stay safe on site with dust extraction

The dangers of regularly breathing in construction dust are well documented and can pose a grave risk to tradespeople.

Here we explore how those in the construction industry can protect themselves against this workplace hazard and review the benefits of using a dust extraction system.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 2017 exposure to dust and chemicals at work is estimated to still be responsible for 13,000 deaths per year. However, the latest IOSH report highlighted that only 2.8 per cent of people asked felt construction workers were “fully aware of the risks” of construction dust – and just 5.5 per cent said that dust extraction was provided to workers “all of the time”.

In some cases, a comprehensive dust control strategy is considered best practice. Photograph: iStock/dagut

Created from the use of power tools and tasks such as sanding and dry sweeping, construction dust – and the management of it – should be a major consideration at every stage of a building process.

Construction dusts are made up of silica dust (from materials such as concrete, sandstone and mortar), wood dust (from wood-based products) and lower toxicity dust (from materials that contain minimal levels of silica such as marble or limestone). Although all dust is harmful, smaller particles are considered the most dangerous, as they can penetrate further into the lung tissue. Continual exposure to these substances can result in serious illnesses, including asthma, silicosis, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder.

There are a number of ways of reducing the amount of construction dust on site and, therefore, the amount being breathed in. For example, using more accurately sized materials – which reduces the need for resizing – or silica-free abrasives.

Workers should also wear respiratory protective equipment when on site – these can be respirators, which use a filter to ensure any contaminants in the air being breathed in are removed, or breathing apparatus that requires a supply of breathable air from an additional source such as a canister.

However, respiratory protective equipment should only be relied upon when exposure to dust is infrequent or for short periods of time – this is therefore unsuitable for construction workers who are exposed to dust on a regular basis.

In these cases, a more comprehensive dust control strategy is considered best practice – and it is recommended that an extraction system be used. Dust extractors are particularly useful in conjunction with power tools. Once connected, the extractor ensures that the majority of dust produced by the tool is removed from the air, preventing harmful inhalation. For continually effective results, it is vital that the main filter on the dust extractor is cleaned regularly. This can be done manually – by shaking the filter to dislodge any debris – and replaced every six months.

However, some market-leading extractors utilise an automatic cleaning function to ensure that output quality is maintained. This works using an equalisation of pressure – high and low pressure in the filter are released through the valve every 10 seconds, pushing out any trapped debris for guaranteed performance.

Before embarking on any construction work, it is vital that companies assess, control and review the potential risks associated with the work they are undertaking, such as dust inhalation, and the materials involved in the work being undertaken, to comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) regulations. This aims to reduce the life-threatening impact that construction-based hazards, especially dust exposure, can have on workers.

Using dust extraction is a vital aspect of a dust control strategy, working to reduce the amount of harmful dust on site and limiting the impact of this hazard on construction workers. This helps to keep building sites safer and reduce the threat of dust-related illnesses on those within the industry.

Daryl Townsend is service manager Festool