Eliminating Risks from Respirable Crystalline Silica Dust

BRIAN HOLMES, BAM Ireland, outlines how the company addressed the risks presented by respirable crystalline silica dust.

The BAM Ireland Beyond Zero behavioural safety programme, in operation since 2014, ensures that workers’ health and well-being is to the fore when designing, constructing and facility managing projects undertaken by the company.

“The well-being of all who work for us, and with us is paramount, not only when they are on our projects, but for the rest of their lives,” says Tadhg Lucey, Director Responsible for Safety, BAM. “Every year we set strategic goals and KPI’s around worker wellness.”

RCS Pilot Study

In 2017 a pilot study was undertaken by BAM on the Aloft Hotel and Uninest Tannery Student Accommodation projects, which were being built by the company, to look at how the risk exposure of respirable crystalline silica dust (RCS) to workers could be eliminated as far as possible.

Using the general principles of prevention, the first thing to be examined was designing out the risk and substituting materials specified for those with less risk of exposure to RCS.

Building Virtually

BAM’s teams’ capability with BIM enabled it to build projects virtually and identify and eliminate the need to cut opes in concrete. The teams on both the Uninest Tannery and the Aloft Hotel closely liaised with the designers in finding solutions. This was coordinated by the BAM Health Safety & Environment Manager, Kathy O’Leary.

The outcome of this process was the use of Metsec walls instead of blockwork, ensuring pre-cast units arrived with pre-formed opes, using plasterboard instead of blockwork, shot-fixing instead of drilling for services and the use of façade cast-in anchors to prevent drilling. The team was unable to source a suitable floor sealant, which could be applied to prevent dust without affecting floor laying on the project.

Project Controls Implemented

Project controls implemented during the project started with the procurement process. Before any subcontractors commenced works, it was outlined in writing at the pre-commencement stage that the use of extraction for tools should be provided. Risk Assessment & Method Statements (RAMS) specifically included for the prevention/minimisation of RCS dust. Water suppression and extraction were used on tools. Dust was collected by vacuuming instead of sweeping. Lorries were covered, and water suppression was used on loads of stone. A specific RCS dust information board was erected, and FFP3 dust masks were provided at Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) stations.

Solutions

Training and awareness were paramount to the success of the pilot scheme. For many years BAM has been using online induction, and the topic of RCS dust is included in induction. A site-specific induction is also held on each project, and RCS dust was included in this. The issue was covered in toolbox talks, whiteboard meetings and Safe-2-Starts. Posters were placed on safety noticeboards. The topic was a focus for the Beyond Zero leadership team and was a specific item on inspections and audits.

BAM partnered with Hilti who gave demonstrations of how the extraction units worked and offered a favourable rate for sub-contractors to purchase extraction units for tools.

Site operatives favoured the full-face mask if Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) was needed, as it fulfilled BAM’s criteria of providing eye protection, didn’t steam up and eliminated the need to be close-shaven while preventing exposure to RCS.

Pilot Study Findings

Approximately 95% of subcontractors purchased dust extraction for their tools, thereby avoiding RCS exposure and also saving time and money on clean up. The team provided a set of recommendations to be implemented company-wide.

The BAM team on the pilot projects found:

  • The use of BIM and early design engagement and co-ordination significantly reduced the instances of builders works producing RCS
  • The substitution of building products such as Metsec and the use of pre-cast units, cast-in services and off-site construction all minimised the production of RCS
  • Where substitution was not possible, BAM promoted dust suppression and extraction at source. By partnering with Hilti, subcontractors could avail of the opportunity to purchase extraction units at a favourable cost
  • By implementing the control measures early in the project and heightening the awareness of the dangers of exposure to RCS, the standard was embedded into the project.

The outcome of the pilot study has been shared within the company, the wider BAM Group, the CIF Executive Safety Committee, and the Health and Safety Authority

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