Last reviewed 14 October 2021

Breaches in dust control are the biggest health hazard on construction sites, according to latest statistics from the Building Safety Group (BSG).

Data analysis of 16,000 site inspections over the last 12 months concluded that dust breaches made up 41% of occupational health infringements recorded on UK building sites. This was followed by personal protective equipment breaches (25%), COSHH breaches (13%), vibration (7%) and noise (7%).

The figures come as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is carrying out a month-long inspection blitz focusing on dust and respiratory hazards on construction sites. Throughout October 2021, Health in Construction Leadership Group members will carry out more than 1000 site visits to assess the effectiveness of measures in place to controls workers’ exposure to respiratory risks from dust. Findings from the site visits and a survey will allow industry to feed into HSE’s broader commitment to improve the health of construction workers by providing HSE with a wider dataset to evaluate ongoing practices across industry.

Regularly breathing construction dust can cause diseases like lung cancer, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and silicosis. Construction workers have a high risk of developing these diseases because many common construction tasks can create high dust levels.

These diseases cause permanent disability and early death. Over 500 construction workers are believed to die from exposure to silica dust every year, for example.

BSG technical support manager Andy Harper said: “Dust particles can be 100 times smaller than a grain of sand. You don’t need to see them to breathe them in. Once in your lungs, dust will start causing damage. Exposure to dust can lead to severe breathing difficulties and lung diseases that can ruin lives and cause an early death. Construction workers have a high risk of developing these diseases because many common construction tasks can create high dust levels. It can take years before the damage is visible and by then it can be too late.”

There are many ways in which construction dust can be managed, for example by looking at ways of stopping or reducing the amount of dust generated by using different materials, less powerful tools or other work methods; using water to damp down dust clouds; or using on-tool extraction, which removes dust as it is being produced.