What is silica dust and why should you care?

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Who would want to work or stay in a dusty environment? Yet, many construction workers are exposed daily to construction dust because of the inadequate, or cumbersome and time-consuming, on-site dust management. Or it is non-existant.

All dusts burden the lungs. When exposure increases and is long-term, it causes Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD, which is an incurable disease. Tobacco is the most influential factor in COPD, but the impact of the work environment on outbreak is around 15% and for non-smokers up to 50%. Builders are also at risk of developing asbestos, asthma, and lung cancer.

The smaller, the worse

In addition to the amount and duration of exposure, the health impacts of each powder, as well as the particle size and other properties of the particles, are contributing to the health hazards of dust. Particles larger than 5 µm remain in the respiratory tract and the smaller ones can travel to the alveoli.

The most important components of construction dust that have an impact on health are concrete dust, stone and brick dust and wood dust. All of them are created both in new construction and renovation, and especially in the demolition of old structures. In new construction, dust problems are mostly caused by grinding and leveling work and also by cleaning.

Building dust consists mainly of concrete dust. Cement, aggregate, possibly additives and water are used in the production of concrete. Concrete dust irritates the respiratory tract and skin, and contains extremely harmful quartz.

Dry materials in the sack, such as mortars and plaster fillers, are very fine and easily create plenty of dust. The total mass of dry-mix contains particles of 0.1μm-1000μm, but the "most dangerous" and the most dust raising particles are less than 10µm in size. Masonry mortars are alkaline, so dust from the mortar mixes irritates the skin, the respiratory tract and the eyes. At worst, plaster dust and plaster itself can even be corrosive.

Dust is also a workplace safety hazard

Construction workers should be concerned about dust on the construction site, as they cause harm to health and comfort. A dusty construction site exposes workers’ respiratory system and mucous membranes to irritating substances that are also carcinogenic. Dust also causes a risk of fire and explosion, as well as a momentary decrease in visibility, which can also have occupational safety effects. Dust also affects the need for maintenance of power tools and reduces their service life.

Dust is a nuisance for end users of the building

The hazards of dust are not limited to construction time, but the building can be filled with plenty of building dust, which is circulated by the ventilation of the building into the breathing air of people living or working in it. It has been investigated that during the construction phase, about 3 g / m2 of dust was accumulated on the inner surfaces of unprotected ventilation ducts on a conventional construction site. It is reasonable to assume that at least the same amount of dust was accumulated on all other unprotected horizontal surfaces in the building.

The spread of dust can be prevented by many means, one of which is source extraction.

* RK-150501 Dust Control of Repair Project, Koski, Linnainmaa, Pasanen, Merivirta

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