Danger of Occupational Asthma and Silicosis for Construction Workers

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Construction Worker Occupational Asthma
LLB (Hons) & LPC Stacy Pimlott
Legally reviewed by: LLB (Hons) & LPC Stacy Pimlott In: Industrial Disease

Those working in the construction industry expose themselves to various dangers every day that they are on site. Some of those dangers are obvious to all and the steps taken to eliminate or reduce these risks are straightforward and adhered to. Other risks are less considered by those on site yet pose serious risks to health. This includes exposure to respirable irritants and fumes which can lead to silicosis, occupational asthma and other respiratory difficulties.

Construction Worker Occupational Asthma

There are three main types of dust found on construction sites;

  • Silica dust; this is produced when working with silica containing materials such as sandstone, concrete and granite.
  • Non-silica dust; this is dust created by products where silica is either not present or present in very low amounts. This includes gypsum, marble and limestone.
  • Wood Dust; this is produced when working with wood, including sanding, cutting, sawing and drilling.

There are many tasks on a construction site which generate dust. These include cutting, grinding, drilling and scabbling. Even tidying the area by sweeping can increase the levels of respirable dust in the air. Dusts can also be carried on the clothes worn by employees and inhaled even when the dusty activity has stopped.

If exposed to silica dust you may develop silicosis. Silicosis will make breathing more difficult and may ultimately impact life expectancy. It is estimated that in the UK 500 construction workers die each year from silicosis.

If exposed to other harmful dusts you may develop respiratory problems such as asthma and as a result may suffer from shortness of breath, wheezing or a tight chest. This may require medical treatment and ongoing care. Our occupational asthma compensation page offers more information.

It is the responsibility of the employer to eliminate exposure and where they are unable to do so they must reduce exposure as much as is reasonably possible. This could include considering a different method for completing the task, using a different material or completing the task off site .

They must assess all risks involved in the activity and consider how to control the exposure and reduce these risks for example through the use of Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV), on tool extraction or dampening the dust with water. The use of Respiratory Protective Equipment should be the final consideration and should not be the starting point for protecting employees against respiratory hazards.

Employees should also be provided with information and training regarding the procedures put in place to eliminate/reduce the risk of exposure and these policies and procedures should be regularly reviewed to ensure they are effective and are being followed.

Ensuring the safety of its workers is the responsibility of the employer. If risks are properly managed and policies and procedures and put in place and adhered to then the risk of developing silicosis and/or other respiratory diseases should be greatly reduced. However, there are still many construction workers that are being exposed and subsequently developing respiratory diseases due to the negligence of their employer.

If you feel that you may be suffering from a respiratory disease, or have a pre-existing condition that has been made worse by your exposure to work then please get in touch, we may be able to help.

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