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Construction Dust in The Workplace

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

Construction dust is a significant hazard that affects many workers in the industry. Dust particles are generated when materials such as wood, plaster, brick, stone, concrete and metal are cut, drilled, or ground. They can have serious health implications for workers who inhale them regularly.

A Brief Overview of Common Material Dusts Found in Construction


Wood Dust

Wood dust

Wood dust is a common type of construction dust that is produced when cutting and sanding wood. Exposure to wood dust has been linked to respiratory issues such as asthma and chronic bronchitis, as well as more severe conditions such as nasal cancer and sinusitis.


Preservatives can also be found in some types of wood. These preservatives are typically used to protect the wood from decay, insect infestation, and other types of damage.


One type of preservative previously used in wood is chromated copper arsenate (CCA), which contains arsenic and chromium. However, due to the potential health risks associated with these chemicals, CCA has been largely phased out of use in residential settings in many countries.


Another type of preservative previously used in wood is alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ), which is less toxic than CCA but still contains copper. Borate compounds can also be used to treat wood, as they are effective against insects and fungi without being toxic to humans.


Formaldehyde can also be found in some types of engineered wood products, such as plywood, particleboard, and MDF (medium-density fibreboard), as it is used in the adhesives that hold these products together. However, many manufacturers have switched to using low-formaldehyde or formaldehyde-free adhesives in response to concerns about indoor air quality and health risks.


Silica Dust

Silica Dust

Silica dust is another hazardous type of construction dust that is generated when cutting, grinding, or drilling materials such as concrete, brick, and stone. Exposure to silica dust has been linked to lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and silicosis, a potentially fatal lung disease.


Silica dust is likely to be present in construction activities where materials containing crystalline silica are being used or manipulated. Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in many types of rocks, sand, and soil. When materials containing crystalline silica are disturbed, such as through cutting, drilling, grinding, or blasting, silica dust can be released into the air and inhaled by workers.


Metal Dusts

Metal Dust from Welding

Metal dusts are yet another hazard commonly found in the construction industry, with exposure occurring during tasks such as welding and grinding. Metal dust can cause lung damage, as well as other health problems such as irritation of the skin and eyes.


Several metal dusts may be present in construction activities, depending on the specific tasks being performed and the materials being used. Some common metals used in construction that can generate metal dusts include:

  • Mild Steel is often used in construction for structural framing, reinforcing bars, and other applications. Cutting, welding, grinding, and sanding steel can produce fine metal dusts that can be harmful if inhaled. The exact composition of mild steel can vary depending on the manufacturing process and the intended application. However, the primary elements in mild steel are iron and carbon, with small amounts of other elements added to enhance its properties. Such as, Silicon, Phosphorus, Sulphur, Copper, Nickel and Chromium.

  • Stainless Steel is also a common construction material used for structural frames, pipework, cladding, stairways and for fixtures. Again, the exact composition of the stainless steel can vairy depending on its application. However, Stainless Steel will normally contain high concentrations of Chromium. When heated, Hexavalent Chromium fumes are emitted, which if inhaled can lead to lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.

  • Aluminium is used in construction for roofing, fixings, structural components, windows, and other applications. Welding, burning, cutting, drilling, and sanding aluminium can generate metal dusts that can be harmful if inhaled.

  • Copper is used in construction for electrical wiring, plumbing, and other applications. Cutting, soldering, and welding copper can create metal dusts that can be harmful if inhaled.

  • Lead may be present in older buildings in the form of lead-based paint or plumbing. Sanding, scraping, or otherwise disturbing lead-based paint can generate lead dust, which is highly toxic if inhaled. In some applications, lead may be heated, which may give off a fume, which can be inhaled.


How Occupational Hygiene Can Help Construction Workers

Construction Worker

Occupational hygiene is the science of recognising, evaluating, and controlling workplace hazards to prevent occupational diseases and injuries. We support businesses in the construction industry and our occupational hygiene practitioners have helped businesses to manage and control the hazards associated with construction dusts, which can pose a significant health risk to their workers. Some ways in which our occupational hygienists can help construction businesses in relation to construction dusts include:


Identifying hazards: Occupational hygiene professionals can identify the sources of construction dusts in the workplace and assess the risks to workers' health.


Evaluating exposure: Occupational hygiene professionals can measure the levels of construction dusts in the workplace and evaluate workers' exposure to these hazards.


Developing controls: Occupational hygiene professionals can develop and implement control measures to minimise workers' exposure to construction dusts. These measures may include engineering controls, such as ventilation systems and dust suppression methods, as well as administrative controls, such as work practices and training.


Providing training: Occupational hygiene professionals can provide training to workers and supervisors on the risks associated with construction dusts and how to work safely around these hazards.


Monitoring effectiveness: Occupational hygiene professionals can monitor the effectiveness of control measures and adjust as necessary to ensure ongoing protection of workers' health.


By utilising the expertise of our occupational hygiene professionals, construction businesses have helped to protect their workers from the health risks associated with construction dusts, reduce the likelihood of occupational diseases and injuries, and comply with regulatory requirements related to workplace safety and health.


What Should Workers in Construction Consider When Controlling Exposures to Construction Dusts?


Controlling exposures to construction dusts is important to protect the health and safety of workers in the construction industry. Here are some tips that construction businesses can use to help control exposures to construction dusts:


Use substitutes or Eliminate the Hazard

Where possible, businesses can use materials that produce less dust or are dust-free as a substitute for materials that produce high levels of dust.

By implementing these tips, construction businesses can help to minimize workers' exposure to construction dusts and protect their health and safety.


Implement Engineering Controls

Engineering controls are physical measures that can be put in place to minimize the amount of dust generated and control its spread. For example, using wet methods to suppress dust during cutting or drilling, using ventilation systems to capture and remove dust, and using barriers to contain dust in a specific area.


Implement Safe Work Practices

Safe work practices can help to minimize the amount of dust generated and control its spread. Examples of safe work practices include keeping work areas clean and free of clutter, using proper techniques for cutting or drilling to minimize dust generation, and properly disposing of waste materials.


Conduct Regular Monitoring

Regular monitoring of dust levels in the workplace can help to identify areas of high exposure and the effectiveness of control measures. Monitoring can be done through air sampling or other methods.


Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

PPE such as respirators, goggles, and gloves can help to protect workers from inhaling or encountering dust. PPE should be selected based on the level of hazard present and should be properly fitted, maintained, and replaced as needed.

Train workers: Workers should be trained on the risks associated with construction dusts and how to work safely around these hazards. Workers should also be trained on the proper use of PPE and other control measures.


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We hope this article goes some way to providing a brief overview of the hazards caused by construction dust. If you wish to know more on this subject or need support from our team then please feel free to get in touch with us through social media or our website (www.workplacescientifics.com), by email at support@workplacescientifics.com or simply give us a call on 01709 931299.



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