Dust Control in Construction Sites

Published : 02/09/2016 12:37:01
Categories : Sunrise Updates

Hands up who wants to work in a dirty, dusty environment - you wouldn't expect a big show of hands. So now explain why such conditions are willingly accepted in the construction workplace, when even a basic level of site house-keeping could eliminate much of this nuisance and make life more bearable.

Mention the word COST and people take notice. Mention the words HEALTH & SAFETY and they go into raptures about some ridiculous regulation or ‘job’s worth’ and invariably miss the point. Dust can cost you your HEALTH. We’ve all heard about the issues of dust in the mining industry and how the effects only surface much later in life. There’s plenty of dust-related health risks in today’s construction environment with the same potential  long-lasting consequences. 

My father was a builder in rural Ireland, working on farm buildings, house extensions and general maintenance. For most of his working life, he never owned any power tools. Wood was cut, planed, drilled and shaped with hand tools. Concrete blocks, clay pipes and bricks were cut by deft use of a hammer, may'be with the aid of a bolster chisel. In all of this, he probably created a lot of sweat but very little dust.

Why are construction sites so dusty?

Power tools are now available for every conceivable construction task. They are highly efficient, produce consistent and accurate results and generally reduce physical effort. They also have the potential to create large amounts of dust. Some have provision for containing and extracting dust, with guards, shields and connection ports for ‘hoovers’ (dust extractors). Sadly most of these facilities are little used – the tradesman often considers the inconvenience of an attached hose not worth the effort and a dust pan and brush are easier to carry (and cheaper) than a ‘hoover’. If only they understood the true COST of dust to themselves and others:

How dust impacts a construction site, the tools and the workers

  • Dust shortens the life of their tools – power tools need to draw in air to stay cool. If that air is full of dust, it will coat the internal workings, cause heat build-up and accelerate wear on switches and moving parts.
  • Dust increases the risk of inaccuracies and errors – if you can’t see what you’re doing, you’re more likely to miss your markings.
  • Dust and waste take time and money to collect, both during the job and on its completion – why waste money on doing unnecessary work?
  • Dust is a nuisance to other persons in the vicinity, be they tradesmen, occupants of the premises or passers-by. Where it results in complaints, there is the cost of disrupted schedules and perhaps the loss of future opportunities.
  • Dust can be an enduring nuisance for the client long after the workmen have gone – it settles largely invisible in unseen places, so if the tradesman is relying upon referrals for future work, they’re doing themselves no favours by leaving the client an enduring reminder of their ‘dirty habits’.
  • Dust is of course a direct health hazard for the tradesman but can also affect many other people in the vicinity.

How to prevent health risks due to dust exposure

So what’s the answer? Of course there are many solutions and the most appropriate will depend upon the scale of the problem:

  • Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) in the form of a dust mask or powered respirator provides protection for the wearer. A dust mask can be a low cost, highly effective solution, for low intensity or infrequent exposure. They can however restrict the breathing process so may have detrimental effects, particularly where an activity is very physical. That said, in the main they are to be encouraged. Powered respirators provide a constant source of clean air to the wearer and are highly recommended in many situations.

But remember, Personal Protection Equipment is entirely Personal – it protects ONLY the wearer. 

Dust Control and Dust Extraction facilities are inherent in many power tools or can be added. The underlying principle is that dust should be captured at source. So attaching a ‘hoover’ to a suitably shielded wood saw should mean that the majority of dust, and perhaps the waste products, will be captured at the cutting edge, before they can become dispersed into the atmosphere.

In principle, a ‘hoover’ or general purpose vacuum cleaner can be connected to a suitably equipped power tool and you’ll be able to grab the dust before it spews into the atmosphere. In practice, you might get this effect for the first four or five minutes with a general purpose ‘hoover’. Thereafter performance will drop off drastically:

  • Wood, mortar and concrete dusts are very fine and dense, not at all like the coarse mixed materials normally collected by general purpose vacuums. So not only is the filtration medium in a general purpose product wholly inadequate for fine dust compounds, (typically allowing the more dangerous fine particles to pass through) it also becomes clogged more quickly.

By contrast, an industrial specification dust extractor is likely to be equipped with a variety of facilities to ensure it is fit for purpose.

  • Some will be shaped to harness the inherent benefits of cyclonic air movement, spinning dust particles away from the filter, thereby extending the period of time before the filter needs cleaning.
  • A higher grade filter should ensure the exhausted air is free of fine dust particles. As it is generally counter-productive to remove the filter for cleaning (this risks releasing undesirable materials into the atmosphere) some form of integral filter cleaning mechanism is desirable.
  • It is also highly desirable for the waste to be collected in a system that ensures it is not subsequently released into the atmosphere – most frequently, an internal bagging system is used. Failing this, a procedure should be adopted to ensure that all the good work is not undone by tipping the waste into an open skip!

In the final analysis, the most important and lasting benefit is the reduction in the health risks associated with the fine dust particles generated by various construction activities – working mortars, plasters and many engineered wood products with power tools can generate dust products that are highly undesirable, even at moderate exposure levels.

And as it happens, it is arguably no more expensive to collect dust at source, than it is to deal with the widespread mess afterwards.

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