How We Can Reduce Dust Exposure on Work Sites

Construction site managers have many responsibilities while on duty. In addition to daily tasks like risk assessment, project analysis and working on-site, they ensure the safety of all project workers. A common element on a construction site is dust, and some types can cause severe damage and long-term health problems. However, once employers acknowledge the risks associated with dust inhalation, the good news is that there are many safety measures to reduce them.  Recognizing where dust comes from, what releases particles and the possible associated ill effects are the first steps in addressing this issue. Here’s the dust typically present on a site and what can be done to reduce exposure.  Types of Dust on Construction Sites  Some kinds of dust are more harmful than others, mainly depending on the size of the particles entering the body. Here’s what’s commonly found on sites
•Crystalline silica dust is released when working on materials like concrete, mortar and sandstone. •Wood dust is released when working on softwood, hardwood or any wood-based materials. •Lower toxicity dust is released when working on gypsum, limestone, marble and dolomite.
Damage to the lungs and airways is an effect of long-term and frequent exposure. As dust particles accumulate on-site, workers inhale them. The body's defense system catches large particles, but smaller ones can find their way into the lungs or even blood.  In addition to health problems, dust is a nuisance. It decreases visibility for workers, making them more susceptible to accidents and injury. Injuries to the eyes are also possible when dust is present.   Preventing Dust Exposure  It's unavoidable to remove all dust from a construction site, but there are preventive measures to take to avoid exposing workers to unsafe conditions. Provide construction workers with information about potential hazards and instructions on how to avoid them. Be sure to train employees about different dust types, the risks of inhaling particles and maintaining clean equipment.  As with everything, proper planning is key to a safe construction environment. It is vital to plan ahead and try to anticipate what tasks will produce more dust. Project managers working on roadside construction should ensure land surveying and grading is measured properly, equipment is lined up, and workers are trained on safety measures. Once the project starts, there are plenty of ways to reduce dust exposure for workers. Here are some tools to use on construction sites:  
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1. Industrial Vacuums  Vacuuming areas with dust is a guaranteed way to limit exposure. Consider purchasing an industrial vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. It will remove at least 99.97% of dust particles that are 0.3 microns in size. Removing dust where possible will benefit all employees on a construction site.  2. Water  Water cuts down on the amount of dust polluting the air — wetting tools before cutting into any materials can reduce dust accumulation. Drilling, cutting, sanding and even driving over dusty areas can pose risks for the workers involved. Make sure to keep a supply of water available to prevent extra dust from accumulating.  3. Extraction Tools  While on a job, it's critical to use tools that remove dust when cutting or drilling into materials like concrete, sandstone or any other material that creates dust. Dust extractors are effective, especially when tools have them built in. When they’re turned on, the extractor is activated and pulls in any dust.  4. Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)  RPE is a type of personal protective equipment that prevents workers from inhaling dust or other hazardous materials. RPE provides protection so people can do their jobs safely.  Following these methods will ensure a safer working environment for all employees participating in a construction project.   Additional Methods for Reducing Dust  Establishing general housekeeping rules for sites will also limit dust entering the air. Here are some other factors that offer effective control: 
•Keep construction areas as clean as possible. •Wear clothing that resists dust. •Rotate shifts so employees limit their inhalation of polluted air. •Add water to dampen areas and suppress dust. •Drive construction vehicles slowly to keep dust clouds from forming.
Consider all the hazards associated with construction work to establish appropriate safety measures.  Keeping Dust Out of the Work Site  Inhaling unhealthy amounts of dust can cause lung cancer, silicosis, kidney disease and other health complications. Construction site managers should do everything in their power to prevent these issues from happening. They must follow the best practices to keep workers safe and able to complete more projects.

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Evelyn Long

Evelyn Long is the editor-in-chief of Renovated, an informational resource for construction professionals. She writes on green building, construction...

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