Vivalda Group, the UK’s largest distributor of non-combustible cladding, has completed the nationwide roll-out of its ‘dust-free’ fabrication services across all its nine UK branches. The business has long advocated the use of off-site fabrication to help contractors deal with the risk of dust inhalation, which continues to concern the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).

Earlier this year, the HSE launched its Dust Kills campaign, spreading awareness of the dangers of inhaling dust from stone, wood and other common building site materials. Undertaking a series of site checks across the country, the HSE found widespread instances of poor practice in the construction sector, including a failure to make suitable RPE available for workers on site, or where it was available, there were no measures to ensure its use.

A key area of concern that HSE inspectors found relates to a lack of effective design or planning on site to eliminate risks from dust, such as considering the use of pre-cut materials.

James Butler, managing director of Vivalda’s manufacturing division, said: “We all know that breathing in dust is potentially harmful. However, in practice it’s often hard to enforce the use of masks and goggles, which can be left at home or in the van, so go unused. We’re seeing more contractors take a pragmatic approach to this potential health and safety timebomb by outlawing cutting on-site, except in very necessary circumstances.”

“Moving your cladding fabrication off-site is now becoming the norm for responsible contractors who take safety seriously,” adds Butler. “We’ve also proven that for most cladding projects outsourcing the fabrication and preparation of façade panels is highly cost effective.”

In 2020, Vivalda undertook research into the cost benefits of offsite fabrication and found that sub-contractors could reduce their fabrication costs by up to 50% by outsourcing the process.

Vivalda contacted cladding installation contractors across the UK and asked them to provide their hourly rates for three specific processes: standard board drilling, specialist drilling, and the fixing of brackets to rear of boards. The analysis found that on average sub-contractor labour rates were up to 30-40% higher than those charged by Vivalda for its offsite fabrication services.

“These findings are worthy of repetition from a commercial perspective alone. If outsourcing this process also minimises your people’s exposure to dust whilst also benefiting from precision off-site fabrication, isn’t that worth investigating?”, concludes Butler.

Between May and July 2023, HSE inspectors visited more than 1,000 sites to find out what workers and managers were doing the address the potential risk of construction dust. The initial findings were release in October 2023, with a more in-depth analysis expected later.