HSE cracks down on dust in Construction Industry

HSE Inspectors are going out across the country looking at how respiratory risks are being managed on construction sites. Some of the most common construction jobs use power tools such as cut-off saws, grinders, breakers and sanders which can create high dust levels.

The Inspectors will be assessing the way the work is planned and then carried out and whether the measures taken to remove or significantly reduce risk to workers are sufficient.

From the 6th of June until 1st of July the HSE will be focusing its attention on dust again, but this time in the construction industry.

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Legal Duties

An employer’s legal duty requires them to prevent / adequately control worker exposure to dust. This duty is gifted to employers by the Health and Safety at Work Act, supplemented by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations.

In the best-case scenario a worker’s risk of exposure to dust will be eliminated by good design and planning. Where this is not entirely possible, measures should be put in place to control dust which may include the need to wear an appropriate mask.

Employees also need to take responsibility for themselves and wear a mask. However, a mask will not offer protection if it does not fit properly so tight-fitting masks fitted to a person’s face are the most effective.

What to do...

You should, be prepared – ensure all documents including policies, risk assessments, safe systems of work, maintenance records, training records are all available or their whereabouts known and that documentation is relevant to the work, and up-to-date.

Inspectors will want to be able to see that you:

Know and manage problem areas – HSE Inspectors will want to look around the site looking at the overall management of dusts as well as looking at individual tasks or activities to see how dusts are being created, how they are removed from the atmosphere and dispersed / collected, how effective this is as well as whether others (the general public, neighbours, passers-by) are being affected.

Keep employees up to date – HSE Inspectors will be assessing how much employees are aware of the problem and whether they understand the risk, and how it is being managed. They can and likely will speak to employees about their understanding and knowledge of the problems dusts cause.

Maintain a level of management – HSE Inspectors will expect the site to be managed and under supervision. Ensure there is always someone on site who can take responsibility for decisions that may need to be made.

Ensure site managers / supervisors know what to do – HSE Inspectors can enter the premises at any reasonable time and do not need permission. Remember, obstructing an inspecting officer is a criminal offence which can lead to enforcement action.

What can be the result of an inspection?

If, as an employer of construction workers you fail to look after their health as well as their safety then there are penalties that you could face:

FFI – HSE Inspectors can instigate a Fee For Intervention (FFI) if they visit and find material breaches of the law and as a consequence feel the need to provide advice or a more formal notice. The Fee is currently £163.00 per hour for every hour spent on the case, (raised in April 2022 from £160), and they will charge for the time the visit took and any time they then spend on the case. It can be awfully expensive with every 8 hrs currently costing £1,304.00. There is of course no charge if nothing is found to be wrong.

Improvement or prohibition notices – if issued by an HSE Inspector these notices need to be complied with which nearly always provides an extra cost not accounted for, but likely foreseeable. If equipment is taken out of service or a site is deemed unsafe and needing to be vacated whilst remedial work is done it can even stop work from continuing at all.

Prosecution – If employers are taken to court to be prosecuted, they could face a fine issued by the court which can be in the thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands if not into millions of pounds, and if the offence is serious enough a prison sentence is not out of the question for the responsible company management.

Reputational damage – HSE places all enforcement notices (improvement or prohibition) issued onto a Public Register and all prosecutions are recorded on the Public Register of Convictions. You can even be required by the court to advertise your failings on your own website.

Your own conscience – The fact that employers are morally responsible for the workers they use and will need to live with their conscience.

Lastly, whilst the Inspectors are focusing on Dusts during these visits, if they come across any other breaches of health and safety law or see hazardous conditions or work practices, they will still fulfil their normal function and act.

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