Responsibility on and beyond the building site: the need for dust suppression


At Air Spectrum, we have prioritised the improvement of air quality in the industrial environment. This concerns different sectors including waste and recycling, demolition and construction. We know how important it is to safeguard the wellbeing of the workforce, especially those in a high respirable risk environment. Dust is a killer. It can also debilitate health for years and affect quality of life if adequate measures are not taken to protect workers who have to face it daily in their jobs.

beyond site

However, there is an additional responsibility – to the environment; that includes its inhabitants.  Local communities near to building sites are negatively affected by construction activities as well. Construction is part of the industrial contribution to the UK’s poor air quality. In fact, it’s not just a problem here in the UK, but a mutual global issue affecting millions.

The pollutants that contribute the UK’s air pollution crisis vary.  Emissions from fossil fuels, in particular diesel, continues to enlarge our nitrogen oxide problem which is closely associated with traffic fumes. The construction industry also causes a great deal of water pollution, but as far as air quality goes, it’s responsible for 7.5% of airborne pollution. A major contributor to this is the production of harmful dust.

Activities that cause this are many, and include tasks like cutting stone, wood or MDF, mixing concrete, working with insulation, demolishing and even cleaning up and maintenance, to name a few.

Then there are the particulates in the air due to construction activities causing respirable health concerns. They are triggered by dusts of different types, silica being a chief transgressor, claiming the lives of around 500 construction workers every year according to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). From asbestos to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), thousands of workers in the UK suffer because of dusty work environments. The construction industry also has the highest burden of occupational cancers, registering 40% of work-related cancers in the UK. This can be caused by exposure to a variety of substances including gas, chemicals, vapours, asbestos, and of course, dust.

How to stop dust impacting your site

Having sound occupational health and safety protocols in place to protect workers from hazardous dusts, according to the requirements set out in COSHH regulations (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health), is therefore, a necessity. Undertake constant risk assessments, put appropriate measures in place, enforce the use of PPE, and communicate with workers who are on the front line – they can help with identifying safety issues.

Then there’s the fact that dust moves, it travels. It can also affect people who are exposed to the dust if it escapes from the boundaries of a building site. It ceases to become just an occupational risk, but a public health one as well, especially if it is concentrated in one area, and coming from a particularly dusty site.

With that in mind, it’s important to know that dust may be considered a nuisance according to the Environmental Protection Act. It must be demonstrated that the dust is harming the  health of the average person and/or interfering with the enjoyment of one’s property. There have been instances around the country where building sites have generated so much dust, that they have been a nuisance to surrounding residents – enough to be reported in the press. This punctuates how much industrial air quality impacts the wider environment.

This should compel action to be more proactive with dust suppression and control, especially during construction activities. By doing so, it prevents fine particles from becoming airborne, where they affect the health of humans, animals and vegetation. Furthermore, if not mitigated, it poses a threat to streams and waterways, increasing the levels of sediment which is a hazard to aquatic life. There is no part of the environment that isn’t negatively affected.


Putting a stop to the snowball

The dangers of dust is an important part of the sustainable environment narrative. If sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide particles in the air attach to dust particles, this can contribute to making acid rain in the atmosphere. Not only can this type of air pollution contaminate water and soil, but it can kill crops or at the very least, reduce crop yields. Factor in climate change (and its complex relationship with all forms of pollution), economic disruption, and our recent global coronavirus crisis, we don’t have to add fuel to the fire. Or in this case, dust.

The development of our built environment need not cause more damage if we use diligence in our safety solutions. And if our safety solutions are ‘green’ ones, then the damage is further minimised. It just requires an adjustment of approach, more use of zero-emissions technology and a willingness to commit to industrial, behavioural change.

Air quality solutions should not create new problems

Here at Air Spectrum, we seek to create greener solutions to improve air quality in various settings. We launched the UK’s first emissions-free dust suppression system – the ecotech Rotary Atomiser – to protect workers in dusty environments – usually in construction and demolition or waste and recycling. It is battery operated rather than using diesel, so there are zero emissions generated while it’s doing its job to suppress dust in the atmosphere. It’s quiet, so doesn’t add to noise pollution; it runs for a whole working day on a single battery charge, so it’s energy and cost efficient.

The technology is familiar, but just used to create an environmentally friendly solution. This kind of substitution could easily make our building and engineering projects greener. It provides a safety solution that does not create an emissions problem while fulfilling its function. 

For further information on dust management or the ecotech range, please reach out to one of our team – who will be happy to chat with you regarding your requirements.