Research highlights need to combat dust risk in construction industry

Workers believe the construction industry needs to do more to face up to the challenge that dust created on the job poses to employees’ health, according to research.

11 December 2014

Over 500 UK construction workers a year die from lung cancer caused by silica, with construction dust also causing other serious lung diseases like asthma, silicosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder.

A newly-published industry survey conducted jointly by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and the Construction Dust Partnership (CDP) has now found that workers feel the issue needs to be made more of a focus.

When asked what priority they think the industry currently puts on the control of construction dust risks, a total of 44% of responders to the survey answered ‘very little’. Only 12.5% said they felt it was ‘a priority health issue’.

The findings come after IOSH recently launched the No Time to Lose campaign, which aims to highlight occupational cancers and educate businesses in how to take preventative action.

Around 8,000 deaths a year in the UK are caused by occupational cancer, with silica dust among the carcinogens being highlighted by No Time to Lose.

Jane White, research and information services manager at IOSH, said: “The report clearly details that not only is the use of extraction and dust suppressant equipment not appropriately used, but the comments received also suggest that there is a confused picture about its availability, effectiveness and suitability for different tasks.

“There is a serious gap in information, instruction and training that we must rectify.”

The survey aimed to provide an insight into issues associated with on-site dust risks, and how they are controlled.

More than 600 workers from throughout the construction industry responded to the survey, with 61% of responses coming from safety and health advisors working in the sector.

The questionnaire was divided into seven sections covering construction dust risk awareness, control through design and alternative work methods, water suppression, dust extraction, respiratory protective equipment, other control issues and biographical data.

It found that responders felt there was currently a lack of priority given to this issue by companies, poor awareness of the risks among workers and little attempt to design out dust risks.

Those surveyed also felt there existed a poor understanding and use of on-tool extraction, an over-reliance on respiratory protective equipment as the main form of controlling the dust risk and inadequate management arrangements to control dust.

However, it was also generally found that there is an improving picture of control through the use of water suppression, and better compliance by those who are more informed about the risks and the controls needed.

In conclusion, the report says: “This survey highlights the fact that the construction industry often poorly understands and controls dust risks. Given the serious health risks and the impact that this has on the lives of workers, the industry now has to face up to this challenge.

“The industry creates this risk. It now needs to acknowledge it, own it and deal with it.”

This view is echoed by the CDP, a collaborative cross-industry group involving the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that is working to raise awareness of construction dust risks and how to prevent them.

Helen Donnelly, HSE partnership manager for the CDP, said: “This report shines a welcome light on the problem of construction dust.

“A lot of work has already been done by CDP members since the report was commissioned. However, much still remains to be done and this report identifies key issues the industry needs to address.”

To read the report in full, visit

Information and resources on managing construction dust can also be viewed at

Contact Tim Walsh, IOSH Media Manager

[email protected]
+44 (0)116 257 3252
+44 (0)797 660 4715