How off-site fabrication could help reduce the problem of dust inhalation.

Ben Jayes, managing director of Vivalda, the UK’s largest distributor and fabricator of architectural cladding systems, thinks more contractors should adopt off-site construction techniques as part of their health and safety strategy.

It’s an uncomfortable fact that every week more than ten construction industry workers die as a result of dust inhalation. And while that figure, compiled by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) is based specifically on deaths from silica, the number attributed to other types of dust is even higher.

Moreover, Peter Baker, the HSE’s chief inspector of construction revealed recently that every year, 3,500 people in the industry die as a result of work-related cancers, mainly linked to asbestos and silica.

A natural material found in rock, stone and clay, silica comprises tiny particulates that can become lodged in the respiratory system, causing lung cancer, tuberculosis (in those with silicosis), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In addition, silica exposure has been linked to other illnesses including renal disease and even cancers.

In short, dust inhalation is a serious issue that too often gets overlooked on site. According to the HSE guidelines, there are simple, tangible steps that every responsible constructor should be taking to minimise the impact of dust.

Despite this guidance, ignorance among both contractors and on-site workers remains remarkably high. In a recent construction industry survey, it was revealed that while only 12% of firms admitted to treating dust as a ‘serious issue’ at work, only 16% of employees were aware of the risks. What’s even more sobering is the fact that there is plenty of legislation – in the form of COSHH and the Health & Safety at Work Act (1974) that mandates action here.

So, what can we do to address this chronic problem? We think the answer in part lies in the greater adoption of off-site fabrication. While there are steps that can be taken to ensure workers cutting bricks, paviors, concrete and cladding material are following best practice, contractors should also consider transferring many potentially hazardous site operations upstream, using off-site fabrication to reduce their exposure to an HSE inspection. A good example of this idea in practice is the cutting of rainscreen cladding, which is typically made from concrete, rock, terracotta, wood and mixed alloys.

Certainly, in recent months Vivalda has seen an increase in the number of contractors assessing the pros and cons of off-site fabrication as a way of minimising the amount of dust generated on-site. This benefit, along with the obvious improvements in productivity, accuracy and overall supply chain efficiency, will give extra impetus to the adoption of off-site construction techniques over the next few years.

Let’s face it, the challenge of setting up reliable, safe and consistently accurate cladding board cutting on site has never been easy. And with the recent crackdown by the HSE on dust inhalation, there’s no better time to reassess your policy in this area.

All of our fabrication machinery delivers cutting accuracy down to the millimetre. But more importantly, each one is fitted with modern dust extraction filters, which are checked and replaced regularly. This means that we take on the responsibility of not only delivering cut to size panels to you – we also take away the headache of health and safety regulations which are quite rightly being enforced by the HSE.