Home Business Insights & Advice The dangerous effects dust can have on your health

The dangerous effects dust can have on your health

by Sarah Dunsby
3rd Jun 24 3:00 pm

When it comes to construction site risks, you might consider things like falls and heavy equipment. However, construction workers also face harm from ongoing dust exposure. In fact, it’s believed as many as 500 construction workers die from exposure to silica dust annually. Furthermore, experts state that breaches in dust control are the biggest health hazard on construction sites right now. This is true even though Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations state the need for precautions.

To keep construction workers safe from dust exposure, it’s vital to put measures in place which could include respiratory PPE and regular cleaning. Many construction managers also negate the risks of dust exposure by investing in dust monitoring services for better air quality maintenance. To see why these precautions are such a vital part of construction management, consider the following dangerous effects dust can have on your health.

Different types of construction dust

Construction workers typically face different kinds of dust during a project, and each of these can have a varied effect on their health. The three most common types of dust that can cause problems include –

  1. Silica dust: Silica dust comes from natural materials like rock, clay, and sand. Silica dust is particularly problematic because it’s invisible to the eye, but silica particles can penetrate deeply into lung tissue and cause lasting health problems.
  2. Wood dust: Wood dust comes from products including hard and soft woods, as well as MDF and plywood. Wood dust is a carcinogen, and has been linked to a 4x increase in asthma symptoms.
  3. Low-toxicity dust: Low-toxicity dust comes from materials like plasterboard and limestone, and has also been linked to certain health problems after long-term exposure.

Short-term health problems

Even short-term exposure to dust can cause unpleasant health problems that can prevent construction workers from completing tasks. Short-term problems are a sure sign that dust control isn’t up to required levels, and include –

  • Coughing and wheezing: Instinctive reactions to dust inhalation may include coughing and wheezing, which could happen immediately on exposure, or in the direct aftermath.
  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation: Dust can also cause ENT symptoms that might include a runny nose, congestion, or red and itchy eyes.

Long-term health problems

Ongoing dust exposure can result in a range of long-term lung problems, many of which are progressive and potentially life-threatening. Addressing the presence of dust as soon as you notice short-term symptoms is the best way to avoid fatalities.

Long-term health problems that can arise from ongoing dust exposure include –

Cancer risks

Long-term exposure to certain types of dust, such as carcinogenic silica or wood dust has been linked to certain types of cancer. Experts largely believe this is because silica dust, in particular, damages lung tissue and promotes the development of cancer. Estimates suggest that past exposure in the construction sector is to blame for around 5,000 occupational cancer cases each year, and 3,700 deaths.


Silicosis is a long-term lung condition caused by the inhalation of large amounts of silica dust over many years. Experts believe an estimated 600,000 UK construction workers are needlessly at risk of developing silicosis. This progressive condition causes lung inflammation and areas of scarring known as fibrosis. Scarring can prevent the lungs from working properly meaning that, in many cases, silicosis is fatal. Experts believe over 500 construction workers die from silicosis annually.


Asthmatics are generally more sensitive to the health effects of dust, and even minor increases in dust concentration can worsen symptoms. While there’s no evidence that dust exposure causes asthma, experts believe ongoing dust exposure can increase its prevalence by up to four times. This can lead to uncomfortable symptoms and an increased prevalence of potentially fatal asthma attacks.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD refers to several chronic, progressive lung diseases, and is the 4th leading cause of death worldwide. COPD includes issues like emphysema and bronchitis. COPD worsens over time, especially if the source of the problem is still present. Experts believe that ongoing dust exposure, which irritates the lungs, can significantly increase COPD risks. For construction workers with COPD, ongoing dust exposure can also lead to a faster worsening of symptoms.

Don’t let dust win

You have a legal responsibility to protect construction workers from damaging dust exposure, which could, in some instances, prove fatal. As well as providing functional PPE and dust cleaning services, it’s vital to continually monitor dust levels on your sites to maintain air quality. Our dust monitoring services here at Ultra Protect can help you clear the air at long last. Simply get in touch to start prioritising the health of your construction workers.

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