The construction industry can be a very hazardous place to work if you don’t take the necessary precautions, which can include wearing the correct PPE. Hazards can be divided into three main categories: those which can affect our hearing, respiratory system and eyes.
In this blog, we’ll be focusing on respiratory hazards. As well as establishing what form the hazards can take, we’ll look at the challenges that face Health and Safety Professionals plus the selection of the right Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) for the job.
Respiratory hazards to look for
Stone, brick, tile and concrete contain silica, and produce silica dust known as Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS). Inhaling RCS can lead to silicosis, an irreversible lung disease that causes permanent disablement and early death.
Respirable particles are typically less than 5-6 microns in diameter which means they are not visible with the naked eye. This small size enables them to get deep into the lungs. Before you consider RPE, you need to do everything you can to minimise the amount of RCS being breathed-in by reducing the level of airborne dust. There are a number of control measures you can consider and the individual situation will determine which ones are more suited to your needs.
As harmful as RCS can be, the biggest occupational disease risk to construction workers is still asbestos. Asbestos can cause lung cancer and Mesothelioma – a cancer of the lung lining. This is always fatal and is almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos.
Repeated exposure to asbestos increases your risk of developing asbestos-related diseases in the future as the effect is cumulative and symptoms can take 15-60 years to develop.
It is also important to remember that you are at a much greater risk of developing lung cancer from asbestos and respirable crystalline silica if you smoke.
The challenges for Health and Safety professionals
During a nationwide campaign, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) visited 2,607 sites where refurbishment or repair work was taking place. Inspectors found basic safety standards were not being met on 1,105 sites, and this number included issues with asbestos and silica. On 644 sites, practices were so poor that enforcement action was necessary to protect workers – with 539 prohibition notices served ordering dangerous activities to stop immediately.
Selecting appropriate RPE
In the construction industry RPE is often relied upon to protect wearers from respiratory hazards such as silica and asbestos.
There are a number of factors you need to consider before selecting which is the most suitable RPE for the task. You will need to assess the exact nature of the hazard, the length of time the worker is exposed to the hazard and the nature of the job that the worker is doing. You should also consult the relevant HSE guidance to ensure you are following the necessary advice given by the enforcing authority.
Help is at hand
If you’d appreciate advice on choosing the right RPE, or any other kind of PPE, an expert at 3M will be happy to provide the guidance you need. All you have to do is call the helpline on 0870 60 800 60 (UK) 1800 320 500 (Ireland).
For information on how to work safely with dust, you can also visit The Construction Dust Partnership website.