HSE’s Dust Kills campaign

Written 15th June 2023 by Connor Brylczak

The Dangers of Dust

Every year construction workers continue to die as a direct or indirect consequence of excessive exposure to dust. Exposure to dust can occur from working with a variety of materials including wood, concrete, bricks, sand and clay. Without proper control measures in place, such exposure can cause a range of health issues. It can initially lead to minor issues such as mild skin and eye irritation, however prolonged exposure can lead to serious lung diseases such as Silicosis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and in some cases cancer. Unfortunately, it can take years for symptoms to show and people may not even realise the damage caused by the exposure but the fact is we are talking about potentially life threatening particles. It is for that reason that once again the HSE has embarked upon a nationwide campaign targeting construction sites across the country to check that necessary action is being taken to protect the long-term respiratory health of workers.

HSE – Dust Kills Campaign

Work Right is a campaign by the Health and Safety Executive with the aim of providing guidance to smaller businesses and its employees. While they may not operate on the scale of their significantly larger counterparts it is essential that the measures are consistent throughout the industry and that there are no outliers. The Dust Kills Campaign is an extension of the Work Right programme and aims to provides free advice to businesses and workers on the measures that need to be in place to prevent exposure to dust. The HSE commenced its inspections on 15 May and they will run for a 3-month period through to July with a focus on making businesses and workers aware of the potential risks that can occur from exposure to dust. It is imperative that employers are taking appropriate measures to ensure their working conditions are up to standard and that no workers are unknowingly going into potentially dangerous environments. It is equally important that they know how to monitor their employees’ health and wellbeing to detect potential respiratory issues at the earliest possible opportunity in order to minimise the impact it will have on them. Workers themselves should also know what symptoms they need to look out for. This is particularly important as dust particles cannot always be seen yet can still have catastrophic or even fatal consequences.

What should you be doing as an employer?

Employers need to:
  • Assess the risk – this means ensuring the correct tools are being used and no overly powerful tools are used when not needed, ensuring the spaces are well ventilated and that the work is carried out in the most time efficient manner to reduce dust build up.
  • Control the risks – again ensuring that the correct tools are used, preventing dust from escaping and making sure the same people do not do the same task repeatedly. Rotation is vital as it prevents individuals having prolonged exposure.
  • Review the controls – Respiratory protective equipment, if needed, must be thoroughly checked before work commences so it fits properly, is actually capable of preventing exposure to the relevant dust and making sure workers know how to properly fit it. If any of this is not done, then the workers should not be conducting the work.
  • Involve the workforce– Workers must be made aware of the decisions that have been made in respect of risk assessments. They should be aware of appropriate controls and trained on how to execute all these measures before commencing any work. Equally, training must be provided on how to act in the event of something going wrong. Such involvement is likely to lead to a more vigilant and responsible workforce which benefits all concerned.

The consequences of failing to act

Despite the UK having a commendable health and safety record, there are still thousands of cases every year that should have and could have been avoided. These have had irreversible and life changing consequences to these people and their friends and family. In some cases the person who has been exposed has suffered life –changing ill health and on occasion early death. In most cases, those workers who have suffered ill health are likely to require time off work to recover or have treatment. This can lead to reduced productivity and delays to construction projects which can in turn have a significant financial impact on the business through both penalty clauses in contracts and reputational damage beyond that., Some business cannot afford to lose staff members and contracts; this accompanied by the potential financial penalties if the HSE launch an investigation or worse still a prosecution, combined with compensation claims and increasing insurance premiums could lead to the closure of the business. If you are facing a regulatory investigation or the possibility of an investigation and wish to speak to one of our team, please contact us at the earliest possible opportunity for a confidential discussion. We are able to represent you wherever you are based across England and Wales.
Connor Brylczak

Connor Brylczak

Trainee Solicitor

Manchester

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