New decree puts pressure on the construction sector to ensure the success of dust control
In the construction industry, nearly 40,000 employees are exposed to silica dust every year during exterior face renovations, concrete processing and bricklaying, for example. The particles in silica dust (alveolar fraction) are so small that you cannot see them with the naked eye. The fine dust is able to penetrate deep into the pulmonary alveoli of the respiratory system, where it may cause silicosis or lung cancer, for example.
Most occupational exposure incidents occur in the construction industry
When examined by occupation, the largest number of occupational diseases or suspected occupational diseases are diagnosed in construction industry employees. According to the most recent publication on occupational diseases, statistics from 2015 (Finnish Institute of Occupational Health 2019), there were a total of 35 confirmed cases of occupational lung cancer in employees of all ages, two of which were caused by silica dust and the rest by asbestos. Two cases of silicosis were confirmed in the working age population.
Removal of alveolar fraction silica dust requires precision
Government Decree on the Prevention of Work-Related Cancer Risks (1267/2019), which entered into force at the beginning of the year, more rigorously addresses the promotion of occupational health and safety, also in the construction industry. As of 1 January 2020, there is binding eight-hour limit value for alveolar fraction silica dust (0.1 mg/m3). In construction projects, the developer, the project supervisor and all employers have a duty to ensure that employees are not exposed to any carcinogens present during construction work.
In practice, the prevention of exposure to alveolar fraction silica dust requires the use of spot exhaust devices during all work stages where silica dust is generated at the construction site to ensure that the generated dust is removed directly at the source. All machines and air treatment equipment must be equipped with efficient HEPA filters to keep silica dust particles in the filter instead of returning them to the air of the workspace. All work stages during which dust is generated must be separated from the rest of the site to prevent the spreading of dust from one work stage to the next. Significant exposure to silica dust may occur in spite of effective spot exhaust during the work stages generating the most dust, which is why all situations where respiratory protective equipment is required must be identified.
Tiny dust particles, major disadvantages
Positive development has occurred in the development of dust control in the construction industry despite the fact that significant or excessive exposure to carcinogenic silica dust is still observed in connection with worksite surveys in the construction industry. If dust control at a construction site is not appropriate, silica dust will remain suspended in the air due to its small particle size and spread in an uncontrolled manner with air flows within the construction site. The rule of thumb is: the more dust ends up in the air at the construction site, the harder it will be to remove the dust from the air.
The changing working environment of a construction site poses challenges for dust control as part of proactive occupational health and safety risk management. That is why more attention should be paid also to preventing the exposure of employees who are doing less dusty work at construction sites. Due to insufficient dust control, people in adjacent areas may also be exposed to silica dust during renovation projects.
Working together to combat dust
In recent years, many construction sites have started using air treatment devices and other effective dust control solutions, technology and working methods. Many supervisors are already proficient in and conscious of dust control. Best of all, employees who care about their own health and the health of their colleagues contribute to dust control at the workplace with their attitudes and practices. The best ideas for developing dust control often come from employees through an inclusive work culture.
Dust control challenge
Zero accidents at work, zero cases of occupational disease, zero cases of occupational exposure. That is what we, as experts in the construction industry, are aiming for. Our cleanliness control experts, such as our healthy building coordinators and indoor air supervisors, assist developers in ensuring that the dust control requirements laid down in the new Government Decree are included in contract and safety documentation. Our experts who are responsible for monitoring the cleanliness control at construction sites advise contractors in the dust control solutions in the manner required by the new decree, with the common goal of preventing exposure to silica dust and other particularly harmful dusts. Are you there with them?