Working on a construction site is never an easy job. You are likely to be exposed to hazardous concrete, stone, or wood dust.
Short-term effects may include coughing or lack of breath. If the exposure persists, it may result in long-term breathing problems.
So, you should always be ready to protect yourself. Prevention is better than cure.
Table of Contents:
- Inhaling Concrete or Stone Dust
- Silicosis Types and the Symptoms
- How to Prevent Exposure to Silica Particles
- Choosing The Right Respiratory Protection for The Workers
- Inhaling Wood Dust
- What are Some Activities that are Likely to Produce Wood Dust?
- Health Issues Associated with Wood Dust
- How to Control Wood Dust Exposure
- Respirator vs. Dust Masks: Which Should You Pick?
- How are the Masks Rated?
- Exposure and Health Monitoring
Inhaling Concrete or Stone Dust
Some of the most dangerous dust is produced when working on the engineered stone or concrete. You can also be exposed to such dust when opening a bag of cement.
Concrete and stone dust have detrimental effects on your health. You should never downplay the dangers when you inhale such dust.
The dust carries high concentrations of silica. It will then travel through the respiratory system to the lungs and may cause cell necrosis or scar tissue.
With time, the lungs may not take it anymore and become completely damaged.
What Are Some of the Silica-Containing Materials?
- Ceramic tile
- Joint compound
- Roof tiles
What Are Some of the Construction Activities That Can Lead to Production of Silica Dust?
- Needle gunning
- Tuck pointing
Tight workplaces can also accelerate the rate at which people breathe in silica crystals. Also, working longer on a piece of machinery will increase the risk of dust inhalation.
The silica crystals are microscopic thus making it hard to spot them with the naked eye. You may be working with your death wish.
Long-term exposure to silica may result in a disease called Silicosis. This disease affects the lungs to a potentially fatal extent.
Silicosis Types and the Symptoms
There are 3 Silicosis types:
- Acute Silicosis; such will occur after only a few weeks or several months of being exposed to high levels of crystalline silica. People die after several months.
- Accelerated Silicosis; will occur after 5-10 years of being exposed to high crystalline silica levels.
- Chronic Silicosis; The most common type of silicosis. It occurs after over 10 years’ of being exposed to low crystalline silica levels.
The early symptoms include;
- Breath shortness
- Chest tightness
- Severe cough
Silicosis is also linked to other deadly diseases like kidney disease, tuberculosis, and also lung cancer. Some symptoms include weight loss, night sweats, and fever. They may worsen and eventually lead to death.
Here is a quick video on the dangers of silica dust.
How to Prevent Exposure to Silica Particles
The most vital and easy way of preventing silicosis is keeping the dust out of breathing the air. You can use a variety of tools and techniques to control the dust.
It may be as simple as using a hosepipe to wet dust so that it does escape into the air. The following are some of the things you should do;
- The workers should be trained and given information about the adverse effects of silica on their health. They should also have knowledge of work protective equipment and practices when working with crystalline silica.
- Predicting when the dust may potentially be produced and plan on controlling it at the source.
- Minimize the exposure to passersby or nearby workers by practicing work practices like marking the boundary where silica exposure can occur.
- Maintain the dust control systems as a way of keeping them in good shape for work.
- Wet methods or local exhaust ventilation methods can help reduce the release of dust into the air.
- Wet sweep instead of dry sweeping.
- Vacuums with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters can help avoid making dust airborne when cleaning up.
- Annual medical examinations should be provided to all workers exposed to crystalline silica on the site.
- Workers should wear washable or disposable protective clothes when at work.
- Cleaning up after work before leaving the worksite to avoid contamination of cars and homes.
- Proper respiratory protection should be used if the silica dust is uncontrollable by the engineering methods. However, they should not be the primary method of protection.
Choosing The Right Respiratory Protection for The Workers
If exposure to silica at the workplace cannot be controlled by the recommended engineering methods, then respiratory protection programs should be introduced.
The NIOSH recommends the exposure levels to be at 0.05 mg/m3 as an average per 10 hours. Such will limit how much silica the workers inhale.
Employers should conduct a test to determine the exposure levels in the work environment.
The information will be used to select the correct respiratory equipment. The following are international standards for certain silica exposure levels.
|Up to 0.5 mg/m3||Half-mask with an air-purifying respirator containing N-95 filters at minimum.|
|Up to 1.25 mg/m3||Should use a powered air-purifying respirator containing N-95 filters at minimum or you could use a supplied-air respirator containing a hood or helmet which is operated using a continuous-flow mechanism.|
|Up to 2.5 mg/m3||Use a full-face air-purifying respirator containing N-100 filters at a minimum. It could also be a powered air-purifying respirator having a tight-fitting facepiece and also includes high-efficiency filters.|
|Up to 25 mg/m3||You need a positive pressure air respirator|
|Sandblasting without using a dust collector and cabinet||Consider using a respirator with type CE abrasive-blasting capability|
You should note that respirators should not replace conducting safe environment working conditions.
Measures should always be conducted to keep the environment safe, vital safe work guidelines in action, and the respirators maintained to function properly.
The N-95 disposable facepiece respirators only provide minimum protection. It is recommended that you use a tight-fitting half-mask air-purifying respirator for assurance.
Inhaling Wood Dust
Wood dust is regarded as lower risk but still has adverse health concerns. When inhaled, it may cause irritation and may lead to diminished lung capacity.
Wood dust can also cause throat cancer which affects in and around the nasal cavity. With prolonged exposure, the lung walls become inflamed and lead to a condition called hypersensitivity pneumonitis.
You will need to wear a mask and other respiratory protection devices to avoid the wood dust’s effects. This can happen when working on all wooden materials. Have you been doing enough?
What are Some Activities that are Likely to Produce Wood Dust?
- Sawing timber
- Routing timber
- Sanding timber
- Other wood processing activities
- Removing dust from a furniture
- Wood maintenance activities
- Emptying a bag from a dust extraction system
From above you can figure the professions likely to be affected by wood dust the most. Construction workers, carpenters, shipbuilding workers, maintenance staff, those working in sawmills are just some of the examples.
Health Issues Associated with Wood Dust
- Inhaling wood dust can easily lead to breathing problems and lung diseases like lung cancer and occupational asthma. Irritation, sneezing, and coughing may also come as a result of breathing wood dust. Decreased lung capacity and allergic reactions like hypersensitivity pneumonitis also occur.
- Wood dust falling on the eye can easily lead to irritation and eventual eye damage.
- Wood dust can sometimes lead to skin ulceration, dermatitis, and irritation.
How to Control Wood Dust Exposure
Measures should be put in place that protects several workers at the same time. Some of the engineering methods include;
- Processed or precut wood materials eliminate wood dust production.
- Local exhaust ventilation is used to capture wood dust mostly at the source and it is one of the most effective ways.
- Water damping controls can be used where applicable.
- Fans, blowers, and compressed air should not be used for moving wood dust.
- Cleaning facilities should be provided at work so that the wood dust is not taken home.
- Workers should be advised to wear respiratory protection equipment when exposure levels are high.
- Use correct tools for these tasks by referring to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Limit the time spent doing dusty work.
- Use on-tool extraction systems.
- The wood dust should be sealed in a bag to prevent re-entrance to the air.
Respirator vs. Dust Masks: Which Should You Pick?
Let us say you want to protect yourself from the health hazards of dust. The first thing you have to do is consider either a respirator or dust mask.
What most people should know generally is that not all dust masks are considered good for operations involving dust since they do not have the same protection as respirators. That is why you will notice that dust masks are normally not NIOSH-approved.
This means that you can wear the dust marks as a preventative measure when doing activities such as dusting, sweeping, mowing, and gardening.
These masks are generally for comfort provision and will not offer any protection when dealing with hazardous dust, vapors, and gases.
Unless you see a picture of respirators and dust masks, sometimes you can easily confuse them. A normal dust mask will have no writing on it. It is a simple mask you can wear anytime for the stated activities.
However, a respirator is different. This is because it will have a NIOSH label explaining what type of mask it is.
Sometimes you may see the word “respirator” also included as part of the label. Some manufacturers also indicate if it is a NIOSH-approved product.
Below are two images showcasing the differences between these mask types.
A normal dust mask for basic protection
A NIOSH approved respirator mask
Take note that some people might use the respirator for nuisance activities such as sweeping or dusting. There is no point of doing so since the normal dust mask will just do the work.
Only switch to a respirator when dealing with hazardous gases. Construction dust can be harmful after long exposure, thus it warrants the use of respirators.
How are the Masks Rated?
If you look keenly at a respirator image, you can always notice that it has several words on it and numbers too.
These are the ratings of the mask. It is only when you understand these ratings that you can know where best they apply. A good example is a mask that can have the initials N95. Each letter has a meaning.
What do the letters and numbers mean?
Here is a quick list of the commonly used letters and their meanings;
- N means it is not resistant to oil
- OV means organic vapor
- P means it is strongly oil resistant
- R means the mask is oil resistant to some degree
The R-rated masks are not very common. You may notice that most masks will be N or P rated.
If you are working in an environment with oil-based paints or even aerosols, it makes sense to use the P-rated masks. In case you are in an environment with airborne oils, N-rated masks will do the job. They are also cheaper than the other options in the market.
How about the numbers?
The numbers also have a meaning. 95 means that the mask can filter up to 95% of the particles. This is for particles as small as 0.3 μm.
You guessed it right, the 100 number will mean that the mask can prevent close to 100% penetration of the particles. Well, there is no mask that can truly filter 100% of the particles.
Exposure and Health Monitoring
Exposure monitoring is conducted when you are not sure of the levels of dust in the workplace. This should be done by an occupational hygienist or trained personnel.
It will help find the most effective methods to control dust on the site and enhance the workers’ protection.
Health monitoring refers to checking whether the workers are suffering or being sick after exposure to the dust.
It helps detect the early signs of a disease or ill-health. It is also a way to determine whether the control mechanisms are properly working.
Health monitoring should be done annually. There should be a baseline, a lung function test, and add a questionnaire on respiratory health.
If you are not sure, contact a certified occupational health practitioner experienced in monitoring health.
Concrete, stone, or wood dust are all dangerous to our health as explained above. The first step is to always seek medical health when you feel irritated in the lungs after inhaling the dust.
The best way to avoid all the medical hustles is to use prevention methods. On a personal level, you can use personal protective equipment. Your employer should also protect all the workers.
Workers should know all their rights when it comes to their health safety. The National Institute of Occupational Safety (NIOSH) is an agency that has helped come up with standards and regulations for workers. Do not sit down and watch yourself die slowly.