With an estimated 2.1 million people working in the construction sector, exposure to hazardous substances and chemicals as part of their everyday work is a real safety risk that can damage health and cause life-changing diseases.
As Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors have increased visits to construction sites nationwide to focus specifically on dust control, our latest blog looks at what you need to know about being compliant with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations (COSHH) and using the right controls.
Exposure to dust is common in construction tasks and the amounts that can cause damage are not large. According to HSE, over 500 workers are estimated to die from exposure to silica dust every year.
If you fail to adequately protect your workers’ health and HSE takes enforcement action, you will have to pay back the costs for any inspection (HSE’s hourly rate is £163), investigation and enforcement. Then there’s the fact that your reputation could be damaged, as HSE places enforcement notices on the Public Register and where prosecution action is taken, cases are listed on the Public Register of Convictions.
The statistics speak for themselves and should be a warning from the HSE Safer Sites targeted inspection initiative. In a previous month-long campaign they conducted, 40% of construction sites failed health and safety spot-checks and unacceptable conditions and dangerous practices were found at nearly half of the 1,748 sites visited by HSE inspectors, with one in five sites so poor, formal enforcement action was required.
So, to make sure you’re meeting all the requirements and placing the health and safety of your construction workers as a key priority, here are some of the key things you need to know:
There are three main types of dust you need to control:
- Silica dust – created from working on silica containing materials like concrete, mortar and sandstone (also known as respirable crystalline silica or RCS)
- Wood dust – created from working on softwood, hardwood and wood-based products like MDF and plywood
- Other ‘general’ dust – created from working on other materials containing very little or no silica. The most common include gypsum (in plasterboard), limestone, marble and dolomite
The main dust-related diseases affecting construction workers are:
- lung cancer
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
What inspectors look for during inspections
If you are visited by a HSE inspector, they will:
- consider if risks to health from exposure to dust are being controlled
- consider if workers are aware of the risks and how to control them
- observe what is going on at the site and consider risk management based upon the hierarchy of controls
- observe employee actions and speak to employees to determine site culture
- review your paperwork
What you need to do as an employer
Taking a proactive approach will strengthen your safety culture and drive safer outcomes that make a positive difference. This should include:
- Senior management commitment
- Being able to demonstrate that everything is backed up with paperwork – risk assessments, COSHH assessments, toolbox talk sign off sheets, meeting minutes, etc.
- Following hierarchy of controls – design out, engineering controls, organisational controls, training and instruction, PPE / RPE
- Full workforce involvement
- Developing a winning safety culture
- Seeking competent advice
Eco Online offers a winning combination of chemical management software and COSHH expert advisors.
You can access our webinar on demand where former HSE Inspector, Benjamin Coak and COSHH expert, Mike Harris, share experiences of what to expect from an inspection, how to prepare and an overview of the relevant regulations. The webinar covers:
- A day in the life of a HSE Inspector
- How to prepare for an HSE inspection
- The importance of having a robust audit trail of your compliance
- Overview of construction related COSHH and REACH regulations
- How to engage your frontline employees in workplace health and safety