Dust Control in Construction

Exposure to dust at work causes thousands of cases of ill health every year, with many of these entirely preventable. Some illnesses can eventually lead to death, as a result of long-term lung conditions such as COPD.

HSE visits check that workers know the risk of dust in the workplace, have the relevant dust control systems in place and are planning their work ahead of time to know all the risks. However, dust control and best practice awareness are important throughout the year, not just when you have an inspection coming up.


The types of dust in the workplace

Construction dust is very different to the dust we would find at home. We create dust in nearly everything we do, and it is hard to get away from. But in the workplace, the high levels of building dust are extremely dangerous to health and need to be controlled

There are two types of dust: nuisance and hazardous. The former isn’t a huge health risk but can still be dangerous if inhaled in large quantities and can reduce visibility and cause throat and nose irritation. Hazardous dust, however, can quickly cause ill health and even fatal or debilitating illnesses. All dust must be controlled.

The most common forms of hazardous dust in construction are:

Low-toxicity dust can be caused by cutting materials such as marble, plasterboard, concrete and limestone, too. Anything using equipment such as cut-off saws, breakers, grinders, and sanders can cause dust.

Even dry sweeping the floor throughout the day can cause dust. Damping down, or using fluid-based cleaning equipment, is a better solution.

Exposure to asbestos causes thousands of deaths every year, and silica dust deaths are in the hundreds.  Anyone exposed to wood dust is four times more likely to develop asthma, and it can lead to cancer in the long term. Tens of thousands of people are currently living with dust-related illnesses.

You won’t die immediately, but the effects of dust in construction can take years to develop. Today’s mistake could mean distress in a few years.


Legal requirements for controlling dust

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations cover workplace exposure limits, including dust levels. The more dangerous forms of dust, such as silica, have a workplace exposure limit (WEL) too.

The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations covers asbestos alone, as it is such a dangerous substance.

Employers have a legal requirement to assess the risks and ensure sufficient dust control practices are in place, and all employees need to be aware of the legal limit for the maximum amount of dust they can be exposed to over a working day.

Your legal duties are the same whether you are on a small or large building site.

If employers and contractors fail to protect workers health, there can be serious consequences:

  • the individual can suffer from long-term health issues
  • the HSE may take enforcement action, and you will have to pay for the cost of the inspection, enforcement, and investigation
  • your reputation can be damaged. If prosecuted, your company will appear on a Public Register


Controlling dust in the workplace

You need to prevent or adequately control the dust created when working in all workplaces, whether construction or manufacturing.

Ideally, dust in the work area should initially be prevented as much as possible. Using the right tools, such as those with built-in extraction units or which offer high performance and quick execution, can help to reduce the risk of airborne particles.

Also, see if the task can be carried out in a way which doesn’t cause dust; can wood be bought pre-cut, or can other tasks be carried out outdoors where there is natural ventilation?

If you can’t avoid creating dust, such as in manufacturing facilities, you need to have support in place and control the risks. Apply adequate dust control measures.

  • Dust extraction units work by collecting dust and particles in the air through a filter, disposing of harmful matter and releasing clean air back into the environment
  • Dust suppression systems use liquids, usually water, to reduce the possibility of particles becoming airborne. It is sprayed onto the dust as it is created, causing the dust to become heavier and drop to the ground
  • Air cleaners can work supplementary to the above. They work like air purifiers, as the filter traps particles, and the fan moves newly cleaned air around the room
  • Use cleaning equipment such as floor scrubbers and pressure washers to clean the flooring, rather than dry sweeping

When dust is created, it should be contained. Close doors and windows, even with dust control measures in place. This will ensure it doesn't spread.

Workplaces require a risk assessment to quantify the level of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) required, for all workers on-site. For example, respiratory masks may need to be worn on-site by all workers, but for those in direct contact with the dust, full face masks or headcovers may be advised.

General PPE such as gloves and coveralls should also be worn, which can be disposed of or cleaned of any dust, minimising the dust travelling elsewhere on-site or into the home.



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