“Most of my day-to-day work involves refurbishing and repairing old properties. The stripping out of old kitchens and bathrooms etc – not to mention the demolition of walls, results in clouds of dust. We keep windows and doors open where we can – but we still breathe in a lot of muck – are we damaging our health and if so, what measures can we take to reduce the risk?”
One of the most common illnesses resulting from prolonged exposure to building dust is silicosis, caused by crystalline silica. This is present in sand, sandstone and granite, clay, shale, slate, concrete and mortar and the use of power tools to cut or dress stone opens up workers to high exposure. People with silicosis suffer from scarring of lung tissue which leads to breathing difficulties.
The most common is progressive silicosis, caused by exposure over a longer period. Victims suffer severe shortness of breath and the effect continues to develop after exposure has stopped. It is also irreversible.
You should certainly reduce your exposure to silica. In most cases it is possible to control this using dust suppression techniques or local exhaust ventilation. Exhaust ventilated tools are widely available, and capturing or controlling the dust at source is nearly always better than attempting to control exposure by ventilating the whole area.
Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) may need to be provided as well. Guidance on the selection and use of RPE is contained in the HSE booklet: Respiratory protective equipment: A practical guide.
Where workers are regularly exposed to respirable crystalline silica then health surveillance which includes a respiratory questionnaire and lung function testing should be provided, plus, if on an individual basis the doctor thinks it’s necessary, a chest X-ray.
For more detailed information refer to the HSE Guidance Note: Respirable crystalline silica.