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Construction dust is a hazardous object and people around such things like construction workers are prone to develop health hazards owing to it. The phenomenon may eventually be fatal to the workers due to lung cancer and other health-related issues. The construction workers being exposed to dust for a longer period develop respiratory ailments. This is due to silica components in the construction dust. Silica is a common chemical used in the construction industry.
Things like bricks, concrete, compressed fibre cement, and other construction materials have silica in them. About 43% of the death of construction workers globally are due to silica (Farooq, Yusop, Chaudhry, & Iram, 2020). The UK alone reported the death of 500 construction workers. Similarly, New Zealand surveyed the risk of dust exposure among 75% of construction workers (Dahlmann & Bullock, 2020).
This report will be an honest review of the dust hazards that the workers in the construction industry are vulnerable to. It will run a narrative of how the work process in the construction industry leads to various diseases and the vulnerability of the workers due to it.
The report also clarifies the significance of doses as health outcomes for the purpose. It will also provide certain remedies to uphold the health and safety of the workforce. The report is to be presented to the senior management of the construction industry to induce them to undertake precautionary measures. Thus, it also deals with intervention programmes to uphold the overall well-being of the construction workers.
Dust is a major health hazard
Each human being is supposed to get clear air to breathe, clean water to drink, and a suitable environment to live in. But the growing extent of air pollution is a concern as the majority of the global cities are reeling under its threat. The World Health Organisation (WHO) observed that air pollution is prevalent both indoors and outdoors (Barnett, 2018). Dust is the main reason leading to air pollution. One in every nine deaths is due to air pollution and it is rampant mostly in lower and middle-income nations. In 2016, over 4.2 million people died globally due to air pollution that emits from industrial processes, transportation, and others (De Soete, Jiménez-González, Dahlin, & Dewulf, 2017). Air pollution tends to generate alarmingly affecting the worker’s health which indiscriminately affects the country’s economy as it slows down construction development.
Dust hazards in the construction sector
Dust is a hazardous substance emitted out of construction sites. Construction workers exposed to dust for a prolonged period result in various kinds of respiratory and heart ailments (Mazaris & Germond, 2018). Silicosis, lung cancer, asthma, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are some of the examples of such diseases. Thus, the sources of construction dust in the work processes of the construction segment are:
Silica dust –
Silica is a natural component widely used in the construction industry to manufacture items like mortar, bricks, and tiles. The dust emerges during the mineral processing and construction activities take place on things having silica in them. This is during the cutting, drilling, or sanding of the construction products (Haney, Pope, & Arden, 2020). The activities emit fine dust particles having silica in them which is known as Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS).
The substance is so fine that it gets into the lungs of humans, typically construction workers as they breathe. Silica dust particles or silica dioxide is the main component of the RCS. Silica is found in many natural substances like rocks, sand, and clay which are used to produce bricks, mortar, concrete, and even plastics. So, during construction activities, silica-rich dust generates. These particles are quite small and can easily get into the human lungs while breathing in (Environment.govt.nz, 2021).
Non-silica dusts –
The construction activities use different sorts of elements like gypsum, limestone, and marble. These substances are either modified, mixed, or even broken to use for construction purposes. During such activities, lower toxicity dust or non-silica dust is released (De Soete, Jiménez-González, Dahlin, & Dewulf, 2017). Though these may not be harmful as their silica counterparts, daily exposure to such dust for a prolonged period may lead to sorts of ailment among the construction workers.
Wood dust –
The construction sector uses different kinds of wood like softwood, hardwood, and wood-related products. These woods are shaped, modified, and designed as per the market requirement (Głod, 2019). Again, while doing so, the wood dust is released which is also harmful to those working in the industry like construction workers.
Dust hazards in the overall environment
Besides the specified industries, dust hazard is also an issue with common people across the globe. The construction workers are also vulnerable to dust hazards like other humans breathing and walking in the environment (Jacobides, Cennamo, & Gawer, 2018). Airborne dust is the main culprit affecting the environment such as:
- Dust emerges from the wind-blown off exposed surfaces of construction sites or even barren lands (Environment.govt.nz, 2021).
- Dust mixes in the air during construction activities like road repair and others.
- Transportation sector plays a significant role in generating specks of dust in the environment due to vehicle movements on unsealed roads.
- Dust can also generate from various commercial and industrial activities like agriculture, forestry, and mining (Barnett, 2018).
- Again, large quantities of dust emerge naturally from volcanic eruptions, plant pollination, and dry riverbeds among others.
Thus, dust is a hazardous element not only for construction workers but for the general population also. Notably, the general people are exposed to dust when they are out of their homes or offices, and they can even avoid coming in contact with any kind of dust hazard. But the construction workers have no choice and had to reel under precarious situations amidst dust (Dahlmann & Bullock, 2020). The phenomenon enhances their ailment risks as they are exposed to dust hazards in the environment as well as in their workplaces.
Dust diseases for construction workers
The construction workers work amidst health and safety issues in the construction sector. They are exposed to silica and non-silica specks of dust for a prolonged period that paves the way to sorts of heart and respiratory ailments. Over-exposure to construction dust may lead to severe health impacts such as follows:
Occupational asthma –
It is an allergic reaction that construction workers are vulnerable to respiratory sensitizers. These are the substances or dust in the workplace that construction labourers breathe (Epstein, 2018). The transportation of such dust sends their airways into a hypersensitive mode. As the airways get hypersensitive, their exposure to even a small amount of dust may initiate a respiratory attack.
Occupational cancers –
The short and long-term vulnerability to dust enhances the risk of lung cancer, nostril cancer, and others among construction labourers. Among various cancers, lung cancer is most common among the construction workforce (Manca, Altoè, Schultz, & Fornara, 2020). The vulnerable community members may experience fatigue, gradual weight loss, blood emitting from coughing, gasping, and even continuous coughing. But these symptoms may remain undetected until the cancer reaches out to the lungs. The cancer risk may aggravate in an individual if he suffers from silicosis.
As construction workers operate amidst long-term exposure to RCS dust or even extensive exposure for a short run of around a few months can lead to silicosis. It is a long-term lung disease as the individual inhales RCS dust (Lai, Webster, Kumari, & Sarkar, 2020). The inhaled dust attacks the immunity system in the body causing inflammation. Continuous inhalation of RCS dust for a substantial period of 10-20 years leads to fibrosis due to continuous attack of the dust particles resulting in such inflammation (Environment.govt.nz, 2021). The phenomenon compromises the capability of the lungs to function properly. So, construction workers often have trouble with fatigue, gasping, and continuous coughing.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) stands for the cluster of lung diseases leading to breathing abnormalities like bronchitis and emphysema. Construction workers have a heightened chance of experiencing symptoms like panting, breath shortness, repetitive chest infections, tireless coughing, and others. COPD is the health outcome of long-term exposure to kinds of dust and fumes in the workplace (De Soete, Jiménez-González, Dahlin, & Dewulf, 2017).
The health symptoms gradually develop with time, though it varies among individuals. People with a lower immunity like senior individuals are more prone to COPD than young construction workers (Jacobides, Cennamo, & Gawer, 2018). Eventually, they also develop such ailments with time and the deterioration may happen quite rapidly. Notably, COPD may aggravate construction workers who are regular smokers.
Construction workers having RCS exposure can face fatal consequences also as the phenomenon leads to 600 annual deaths (Mazaris & Germond, 2018). Besides, healthcare workers get 19,000 fresh cases annually of construction workers suffering from lung or breathing trouble. The concerning aspect is that the numbers are steadily rising with time and call for immediate attention from various stakeholders.
Notably, construction workers, due to their nature of work like drilling, sanding, and demolition, are vulnerable to volumes of RCS dust. The same applies to miners, quarry workers, stonemasons, and those at the foundries.
Mechanism of RCS becoming hazardous to construction workers
RCS is a perilous component causing serious consequences on the health of those who are in close contact with it. Thus, the construction segments across the spectrum have imposed a Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) to safeguard the workforce’s health. WEL signifies the legal and optimal safe concentration of RCS that construction workers can handle, say an exposure up to 0.1 mg/m3. This quantity is supposed to be within an average of eight hours of daily exposure (Barnett, 2018).
Construction firms across New Zealand ought to ensure proper monitoring of RCS exposure and not breach WEL. It tends for a suitable control mechanism to reduce RCS exposure and proper abidance to WEL (Epstein, 2018). It is significant to follow such a measure as various silica-rich materials comprise different volumes of silica in them, such as:
Proportion of silica
Notably, substances like marble and limestone with lower silica content can even lead to serious health consequences if the workers get exposure for a longer tenure. It is because different sorts of dust have different WEL values.
Relevance of dose to counter dust hazards
Indeed, dust hazard is a reality in the construction sector. The dose will be to reduce the amount of dust generated through the work process. It should be within the WEL limit, wherein the exposure limit can be up to 0.1 mg/m3 daily. The importance of dose is the reduction of the health hazards of construction workers and contribute to the industry without affecting their health (Kramer, Blanc, Fireman, & Amital, 2012). In this spree, both employers and employees need to share certain responsibilities.
Responsibilities of the construction firms
- construction firms across New Zealand ought to conduct business operations in the workplace safely (De Bakker, Rasche, & Ponte, 2019). It should undertake measures to reduce the dust hazards as much as possible for the workers, contractors, visitors to the construction sites, and the general public as well.
- Risk identification is a significant aspect that the construction firms ought to abide by to evaluate the ground situation and means to control the dust hazard.
- The construction entities need to run effective risk assessment frameworks for the construction sites and activities. The legal requirements tend to record the outcome of the risk assessment system to understand how well the operations are being carried on there (Environment.govt.nz, 2021). It is to deliver appropriate control on the ground situation and communicate the matter suitably to the workers.
- The employers need to share the risk assessment report with the stakeholders to provide clarity of the situation. It is to provide the workforce with appropriate information on hazards and risks as well as requisite control related to the workplace (Mahajan & Bose, 2018).
- The construction companies ought to exert effective health surveillance as necessitated and train the workforce suitably to contemplate their activities.
- The employers have to undertake the responsibility to ensure that the dust hazard does not cross the limit set by WEL (Santamaria, Paolone, Cucari, & Dezi, 2021). It signifies the legal justification of the hazardous substance in the air over a particular period to ensure the safety of the workforce on the site.
Responsibilities of the construction workers
Besides the employers, the employees should also undertake suitable responsibilities to ensure their health and safety at the construction sites, such as –
- They should adhere to the health and safety information provided by the employer (Głod, 2019).
- Need to exercise proper control measures as instructed by the construction firms.
- Should extend cooperation with the employer while implementing the requisite control measures to fight the dust hazard.
- The employer arranges for certain training which the employees should attain and implement the lessons while working to ensure their workplace safety (Mahajan & Bose, 2018).
- Reporting to the employers regarding any safety issues to modify the system effectively.
Implementation program to control dust hazards
Implementation of an effective program is a significant aspect to control the dust hazards emitted in the construction segment. It is because each stakeholder has certain legal responsibilities to deliver to the community or workplace to reduce dust hazards as much as possible. The ambit takes into consideration of various parties such as the employees, builders, suppliers and contractors, designers, engineers, and even management (De Bakker, Rasche, & Ponte, 2019). Hence, it requires the Assess, Control, and Review (ACR) model to put things in place for countering the dust hazards in the environment.
ACR model –
ACR model is an effective outcome to evaluate the hazards related to the workplace and efficiently manage the risks. It considers the following phases:
Phase one – assessing the risks
It is to identify the dust hazards related to the workplace and work processes to evaluate the sorts of risks. For this, one should consider the task itself like the tools and materials required to contemplate the activity (Jassem, Azmi, & Zakaria, 2018). It also needs to go through the working condition of the construction site as well as the frequency and period of the tasks to be carried out.
Phase two – controlling the risks
This phase is about selecting control mechanisms to reduce sorts of risks in the work process alongside hierarchical control. The scenario tends to do away with hazards like having things that are already processed such as pre-prepared, pre-cut, and pre-finished materials. By having these things, the construction workers do not need to process the materials to release silica dust components (Farooq, Yusop, Chaudhry, & Iram, 2020). The phenomenon helps in reducing the dust hazard to a certain extent in the work processes as those materials are already processed and need not be processed further. It leads to a lower generation of dust in construction sites across New Zealand.
The management can implement innovative ideas to improve the workplace practices like using wet coring or no-drill fixings for construction purposes. It strives to reduce the risks of dust generation extensively. Innovation is also an aspect that the builders should consider by having no-tool dust extraction to have a cleaner work environment (Haney, Pope, & Arden, 2020).
The administrative aspect also plays a significant part to reduce the dust hazards in the construction sites. It can do so by implementing safe working systems at the workplace, job rotation of the staff so that no particular group had to suffer dust hazards continuously, and arranging proper safety training for the workforce.
In the controlling aspect, personal protective equipment (PPE) is also quite significant. It seems a practical way to counter the dust hazard in construction sites, though it is supposed to be the last means (Manca, Altoè, Schultz, & Fornara, 2020). In certain cases, the dust rises above WEL. Thus, the employer ought to provide protective equipment like respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to safeguard themselves from hazardous dust.
Phase three – reviewing the controls
It is the final phase wherein, the operations manager or the project manager at the construction site needs to periodically review the controls (Lai, Webster, Kumari, & Sarkar, 2020). This is to ensure that the working process at the construction site is continuing uninterruptedly and that workforce safety is duly organised.
Labour legislation in New Zealand
New Zealand has a comprehensive set-up to keep the workplace suitable for the workers. It provides effective rights and responsibilities to both employers and employees. The employers should provide a fair wage to the staff as set by the authorities alongside, making the environment safe for work. New Zealand has separate legislation for employee rights,
leave and holidays, fair wages, discriminatory practices, and workplace safety. The country earnestly follows the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) which covers several rights of the employees at construction sites (Worksafe.govt.nz, 2022). The Act empowers them to stop working if they feel that the work environment is not suitable. As per HSWA, construction workers in New Zealand can
- Work in a supportive environment having risks to health and safety properly monitored.
- Have access to adequate facilities like appropriate restrooms, first aid, and washing arrangements.
- The workforce ought to have suitable training facilities, support, and information to contemplate the construction activities effectively (Farooq, Yusop, Chaudhry, & Iram, 2020).
- The labourers working in the sector should have a voice for themselves and can seek improvement in business practices for their safety in the workplace.
- The workplace ought to have either a Health and Safety Committee (HSC) or a Health and Safety Representative (HSR) (Santamaria, Paolone, Cucari, & Dezi, 2021). They should also be provided with proper PPE to safeguard themselves from sorts of hazards like dust at construction sites.
The country empowers the workers by giving them the provision to stall all kinds of operating activities if the workers feel that the situation is unsafe or unhealthy. They have the right to decide for themselves whether the working condition is suitable or not and comply with the employer policies to have a safe and healthy workplace (Haney, Pope, & Arden, 2020). The workers can seek effective help and guidance from the supervisor or contractor at the working site concerning a health and safety angle.
Relevance of the construction industry to redress the issue
The construction sector ought to have a due attention to the aspect of dust hazards affecting the health and lives of scores of construction labourers. The release of silica dust and other toxic dust and air is choking the lungs of those workers leading to severe respiratory and lung ailments. The poor labourers are suffering and these things need to be put to an end. The ACS model suggested is quite effective in putting the control measures in their rightful places. The construction leaders are well aware of the situation and need to take effective steps to reduce dust hazards as much as possible (Hutchison, 2021).
Firstly, construction firms should set an HSC or appoint an HSR to evaluate the ground reality and come up with a pilot project to reduce dust hazards. Secondly, they should adhere to various control measures like having wet components rather than dry ones that reduce the instances of dust (Brooks & Dunn, 2018). The management should form a review committee to go through the proceedings periodically and implement effective measures to enhance workplace safety for construction workers. Accordingly, certain suggestions are forwarded for the construction leaders to pave effective means to reduce dust hazards in the construction sites, such as –
- The construction workers have a right to state displease in case their health and safety standards are not amply met. The management should provide a conducive environment to let them have their say in such matters.
- Implement innovative technologies in the workplace that reduces the scope of dust in the work process alongside providing safety gear like PPE to the workers.
- The workers should be properly trained on safety matters to decide whether the workplace is safe for them or if more needs to be done. The management should have an open forum to understand the issue and encourage the workers to have their say.
The paper concludes that construction workers across New Zealand are in quite a trouble and facing undue health and safety hazards at their workplaces. The silica dust released at those construction sites choke the airways of the workers in the sector. It results in prolonged illness of those workers like lung cancer, asthma, and other respiratory ailments. The sorts of activities like drilling and other construction facilities lead to the release of silica dust affecting their health which needs the immediate attention of construction leaders. This phenomenon needs the relevance of the ACS model to control construction activities effectively so that the release of hazardous dust like silica is reduced extensively. Accordingly, the management ought to take note of these measures to implement them in their business practices and uphold the health and safety of the construction workforce across New Zealand.
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