Respiratory health checks for construction workers


The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will be conducting respiratory health inspections of construction workers in the UK.

Photograph of the back of a construction worker with a blue hard hat.
Credit: Life of Pix, Pexels.

The government agency will be carrying out a targeted inspection initiative concerning the respiratory risks affecting construction workers. 

Supported by the HSE’s Dust Kills campaign, the checks will focus on construction dust exposure, particularly with types like silica (Respirable Crystalline Silica/RCS) and wood dust.

The initiative will start next week, running from 15 May to 14 July. 

Inside the initiative 

As part of a respiratory health intervention initiative, the checks concern whether employers and workers understand the risks of construction dust and if they are taking the right precautions at work. 

Inspectors will be looking at the control measures in place to protect workers from inhaling dust, and whether all asbestos containing materials have been identified, reduced or removed. 

Dangers of dust exposure 

HSE estimates that around 4,000 construction workers die from diseases caused by workplace exposures every year. 

Construction dust has been linked to several occupational lung diseases, according to an investigation by the British Safety Council.

The findings saw that: 

  • Silica can cause silicosis, which causes severe breathing problems and proneness to lung infections. 
  • Metal dust can also lead to such infections. 
  • Inhalable dusts can cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which can inflame the airways.
  • Wood dust and asbestos have been linked to cancer. 

In its report on managing exposure to construction dust, the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) highlighted several respiratory controls for employers: 

  • Wet/damp cleaning – effective for removing dust and stopping it from getting in the air. 
  • Dry vacuuming – for cleaning tools, equipment and filters. 
  • Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) – captures dust or fumes locally from a working tool or process.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) and respiratory protection equipment (RPE) – usually in the form of a mask, and considered as a last resort and supplementary to the above controls. 
  • Sufficient washing facilities – for preventing cross contamination. 

HSE has partnered with construction and occupational health organisations to highlight the control measures required to prevent on site exposure.

“Our inspectors will visit a range of construction sites to check businesses are taking the necessary action to ensure their workers’ long-term respiratory health is being protected,” said Michael Thomas, the HSE’s chief inspector of construction. 

“Through engaging with those on site, we can make sure they have considered the job from start to finish, have considered the risks at each stage, and are managing the risks with effective measures in line with the broad hierarchy of control options such as water suppression, extraction, and as a last resort Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE).”

HSE was contacted for further information on the inspection.

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