7 things you may not have known about construction dust

by Alex on October 7, 2014

Earlier this year, a number of organisations banded together to form the Construction Dust Partnership to improve awareness and prevention of the dangers of construction dust, and encourage more construction workers and contractors to be safe on the job site. But how much do you know about silica dust? Here are seven things that might surprise you.

1. There’s an actual medical condition associated with silica dust: silicosis.

Silicosis is a condition in which exposure to silica dust damages the lungs, making it harder to breathe. There’s no cure for silicosis, and it can be fatal—sometimes in just a few weeks or months. It usually shows up after many years of exposure to silica dust, but it can happen quickly if you’re inhaling a lot of dust.

The symptoms of silicosis are often confused with other lung conditions, like pneumonia or tuberculosis, and include coughing, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, fatigue, chest pain, and bluish skin. The reduced lung function caused by damage to the lining of the lungs is what causes it to be fatal.

2. Silicosis makes you more likely to contract tuberculosis.

People with silicosis are three times more likely than the average person to contract tuberculosis, a serious lung infection that manifests in chest pain, a hacking cough, coughing up blood, and the spread of infection to other areas of the body. While there are treatments for tuberculosis, it can still be fatal, especially if it’s not diagnosed early enough. It’s also quite contagious.

We don’t know why silicosis makes it easier to get tuberculosis, but there’s definitely a connection. And because it’s spread by coughing, sneezing, and even talking, it can quickly spread to the families and friends of infected persons.

3. We’ve known about the dangers of construction dust since the 16th century.

In the 1500s, Agricola wrote about respiratory problems in miners from inhaling dust. And in the 1700s, Bernardino Ramazzini noticed the same thing in stone cutters. It was industrialisation, though, and the introduction of power tools, that really increased the incidence of silicosis.

With things like jackhammers, concrete saws, and power washers, we create a lot more construction dust, and with it comes a lot more risk. If miners were damaging their lungs in the 16th century with hand tools, it’s not hard to imagine how much more risk construction workers are at now!

4. You’ll find silica dust in surprising places.

You probably knew that silica dust was created when you’re working with concrete and brick, but did you know that it can also come from clay, soil, and paint? It can even be kicked up by storms. Almost anything that creates dust while you’re working with it can contain silica dust, so it’s important to protect yourself at all times.

The CDC says that paint and rust buy kamagra removal with powertools, abrasive blasting, mortar grinding, almost any work with concrete or masonry, jackhammering, and dry sweeping all create risk, and that workers like concrete and drywall finishers, highway construction workers, and bridge repairmen are often exposed to dangerous levels of dust.

5. A mask will help, but it’s not enough.

3m-dust-mask

Wearing a respirator mask is usually the first thing that builders think of when they’re trying to mitigate the risks of construction dust, but it’s not enough to just use a mask. Sometimes the task that you’re working on can overwhelm or clog the filter in the mask, and many people wear the mask incorrectly or don’t go through a proper fit testing. If the mask doesn’t seal correctly, you’re still breathing dust.

Not only that, but wearing a mask only protects one person; there are a lot of other people around the construction site, and they could be at risk as well, especially if the dust is indoors. It’s important to take steps to reduce the amount of dust that’s created in addition to wearing protective equipment.

6. Sometimes the simplest tool is best: water helps significantly reduce dust in the air.

There are many different ways to reduce construction dust risk, and water is one of the best. By wetting the construction materials before you cut or blast, much of the dust won’t get into the air in the first place. Simply hosing down the area can make a big difference.

Specific tools exist for this purpose, as well. There are cut-off saws that automatically add water the blade while you’re cutting, and some drills add water through the stem, both of which will reduce dust.

7. Your family’s at risk, too.

Even if your family never visits the job site, they could also be at risk from silica dust. Why? Because it can settle in your clothes and your car and be transported back to your home. They won’t get a lot of exposure this way, but it could be enough over many years to cause respiratory problems.

That’s why it’s important to park far from any work that creates dust clouds, change your clothes after work, and shower before going home if you can. This will reduce risk both for you and your family.

Be safe out there!

Construction dust is contributing less to job site risk than it has in past decades, but it’s still a big deal, and it needs to be taken seriously. Whether you’re a brick cutter, a highway repairman, a mason, or a builder, taking the proper steps to be aware of risks and protect yourself from dust will help keep both you and your family healthy. And there’s nothing more important than that!

Image credits: Chicago Transit Authority, Nolan Williamson via flickr.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Steen Espersen October 7, 2014 at 5:28 pm

The use of water on a small scale can be some what efficient but not practical over long term or a larger scale situation.
Seasonal weather is a prime factor as well the varying degree and concentrations of silica may force a company/safety/individual to wear a full face rather than a half mask. Due diligence would be a prime factor in this area. Honeywell also gives free APR TT fit testing for their clients and a progressive over all attitude.
The North Brand series by Honeywell has been around a long time and soon their Sperian line of respirators will also have the ability to use the North cartridge as they are updating and changing the threading

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HANDSHQ.COM October 28, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Thanks Steen – I wasn’t aware of Honeywell’s approach to fit testing, something many construction employers could learn. It the mask doesn’t fit, you might as well not wear it.

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