Here’s what you need to know about the dust disease affecting construction crews – and it’s not only asbestos
Most of us know the risks created by asbestos and how asbestos related disease has impacted the health of people around the world. Unfortunately not everyone is aware of the products that contain asbestos, so even now there are scores of people who are inadvertently exposed to asbestos every year. Asbestos was formerly used in many products including insulation, floor coverings, electrical boards, and more. People renovating or demolishing buildings more than 30 years old must take precautions and check to ensure they know what products contain asbestos, and then ensure these are handled and disposed safely.
But asbestos isn’t the only silent lung killer. Indeed there are more and more workers in the construction industry being struck down by silicosis. This is caused by breathing in silica dust. Silica dust is created when masons cut materials like concrete, masonry, sandstone and granite. The disease isn’t curable and results in permanent scarring of the lungs. Silicosis is a debilitating disease making even minor physical activity near impossible, and severe cases lead to death. For more read this report.
A relatively new source of silica dust is the use of engineered stone kitchen bench tops and bathroom vanity slabs. According to this report engineered stone consists of 90% silica. These tops have to be cut to size and holes are cut and drilled to accommodate the installation of sinks, cook-tops and plumbing fittings.
In Australia, where cases of silicosis have increased by 50%, new laws are being introduced to reduce the amount of dust exposure, but these probably don’t go far enough since many workers are exposed to silica dust over prolonged periods of time.
In the US, according to a 2015 report from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, some 2 million workers are exposed to silica dust, with the highest risks being in mining, quarrying, stonemasons, tunnelling and construction, with many of these workers facing high exposure.
Protecting construction workers
Workers need to be aware of the risks of breathing silica dust. Dust should be eliminated by employing cutting and polishing tools which suck the dust up as it’s created. Where possible wet cutting should be done. Workers must wear proper breathing masks. Masks used must be appropriate for the work and most paper masks will not help protect the wearer. Caution must be taken to ensure that people in the vicinity aren’t exposed to the dust.
Our health and the health of our workers is important. Don’t take the chance with your life or the lives of others. Contractors who don’t implement the correct safety precautions could be exposed to multi-million dollar lawsuits from those exposed to silicosis on the work-site.
Have you been impacted by silicosis? Tell us your story and how it's changed your life. Maybe you know somebody who has silicosis?
Want to read more construction management tips and insights? Read 'Successful Construction Project Management: The Practical Guide' by Paul Netscher
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Copyright 2016 - The attached articles cannot be reproduced for commercial purposes without the consent of the author.
The opinions expressed in the attached articles are those of the writer. It should be noted that projects are varied and different laws and restrictions apply which depend on the location of the contractor and the project. It's important that the reader uses the supplied information taking cognisance of their particular circumstances. The writer assumes no responsibility or liability for any loss of any kind arising from the reader using the information or advice contained herein.
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