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Dust regulations leave industry under a cloud

Proposed regulations for silica dust control are set to have a profound impact on the construction industry, requiring new practices, equipment and techniques right across the sector.

The Health and Safety Executive issued its consultation document for controlling workplace exposure to 'respirable crystalline silica' last week, proposing to cut by two-thirds the levels of dust that workers can be exposed to.

The executive is suggesting that workplace exposure is reduced from 0.3 mg/m-3 to 0.1 mg/m-3 in an eight hour day. The HSE believes this would cut the long-term risk of contracting silicosis from 20 per cent to 2.5 per cent.

Reducing exposure to the material, which is found in everything from shales to brick and concrete, is set to impact heavily on everyone involved in quarrying. But it will also affect workers involved in most general construction activities such as drilling, grinding and sanding.

Nigel Strickland, marketing manager for Brandon Hire, said: 'There is a tremendous lack of knowledge about the health an safety issues involving dust.

'If the HSE makes a site inspection and sees clouds of dust, this will now longer be considered acceptable.'

Quarrying will require major changes in work practices, but Mr Strickland said that a range of relatively inexpensive techniques could be implemented to control dust exposure within other everyday construction practices.

This ranges from use of water suppression for activities such as sawing, through to dust collection using highpowered vacuum cleaners.

But the industry must change its approach. He said: 'In Sweden, they won't employ someone else to clear up the dust after construction - at one extreme, dust collection is designed into the construction of the building, so each floor can be connected to vacuum units.'

Mr Strickland also stressed that the proposals see the use of dust masks only as a last resort. 'It is not bout stopping dust being ingested - it is about stopping dust being produced. It will not be simply a question of issuing everyone a mask.

'It is vital that the industry gets involved so we can ensure that regional contractors and suppliers are heard.'

The changes in techniques on site are set to be driven by clients and contractors, pushing for best practice, he added.

'A construction worker who has been on site for many years is now likely to realise that exposure to dust has been a risk and says: 'I don't want to be doing this if it means ingesting something that has an outside risk of causing lung cancer.' Every site is going to be affected.'

by Andrew Gaved