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    Construction site with a silica dust cloud in the air

    Silica Dust

    Published on May 17th, 2021 | by Sophie West

    What is silica dust? Silica is a natural substance found in varying amounts in most rocks, sand and clay. For example, sandstone contains more than 70% silica, whereas granite might contain 15-30%. Silica is also a major constituent of construction materials such as bricks, tiles, concrete and mortar.

    You generate dust from these materials during many common construction tasks. These include cutting, drilling, grinding and polishing. Some of this dust is fine enough to get deep into your lungs. The fine dust is known as respirable crystalline silica (RCS) and is too fine to see with normal lighting. It is commonly called silica or silica dust.

    What is the Risk? 

    Silica is the biggest risk to construction workers after asbestos. Heavy and prolonged exposure to RCS can cause lung cancer and other serious respiratory diseases.  In addition to the risks from lung cancer, silica is also linked to other serious lung diseases:

    • Silicosis can cause severe breathing problems and increases the risk of lung infections. Silicosis usually follows exposure to RCS over many years, but extremely high exposures can cause acute silicosis more quickly.
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of lung diseases including bronchitis and emphysema. It results in severe breathlessness, prolonged coughing and chronic disability. It can be very disabling and is a leading cause of death. Around 4000 deaths are estimated annually due to COPD resulting from past workplace exposures in the past. Construction workers are a significant at risk group within this

    The amounts needed to cause this damage are not large. The most you should be inhaling during a day after using the right controls is shown next to the penny.

    What must you do:

    The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations says you must protect against the risks from hazardous construction dusts.

    There are three key things you need to do:

    • Assess (the risks) – Assess the risks linked to the work and materials, you should take into consideration the Task, Work Area, Time and Frequency.
    • Control (the risks) – Stop or reduce the dust. If you cannot stop the dust then include measures that will stop dust getting into the air, this can be done via:

    – Water – Water damps down clouds

    – On-tool extraction – removes dust as it is being produced.

    – Provision of Respiratory Protective Equipment may be needed such as FFP2 disposable mask or half mask with P2 filter – Remember to ensure that RPE has been face fit tested, this will help you ensure the types of masks fit the users correctly and are of the right type.

    Review (the controls) – Ensure that the controls are all working properly, this can be done via supervising workers, air sampling and maintaining equipment, lung function tests can also form part of your health surveillance

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