WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF SENSITISATION?
The symptoms are:
Asthma - attacks of coughing, wheezing and chest tightness.
Rhinitis and conjunctivitis - runny or stuffy nose and watery or prickly eyes.
Further chronic conditions include:
COPD - An airflow obstruction that is not fully reversible and is associated with inflammatory responses of the lungs to hazardous substances. Symptoms include a chronic cough, sputum production, and shortness of breath. COPD can be caused by smoking, but exposure to harmful dust, fume and gases are also contributory factors to the development of the disease. Construction workers have higher levels of this disease than the general population.
Silicosis - An irreversible lung disease that can take years to develop. Exposure to fine particles of respirable crystalline silica (RCS) can cause damage and inflammation in the lungs which over time, leads to the formation of scar tissue (fibrosis). The main symptoms are breathing difficulties and a chronic cough which may not appear before retirement. This condition can be extremely serious and lead to early death. Stone dust often contains high levels of RCS and construction workers have an increased risk of developing silicosis because of exposure to high levels of silica dust for certain tasks (and there may also be a risk of COPD). If high-speed cutting tools are used on high-silica-content materials without suitable controls, RCS exposures can be very high.
Examples where RCS exposure can be high include:
Scabbling and surface grinding.
Crushing and screening demolition material.
Clearing and removing rubble; and.
Chasing out mortar before repointing.
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 is the main piece of legislation dealing with occupational exposure to chemicals and substances, including those that have or may have the potential to cause respiratory disease. These regulations encourage the substitution of hazardous substances wherever possible and if not practical, require adequate controls or precautions so as to safeguard both human health and the environment.
COSHH requires you to carry out an assessment of the risks created by work which are likely to expose your employees to respiratory sensitisers.
Addressing and controlling risks from respiratory disease - the five stages:
Stage 1: Arrangements
Stage 2: Assess health risks
Stage 3: Eliminate risk
Stage 4: Control risk
Stage 5: Manage remaining risk
Employees should be informed, instructed and trained regarding risks to health, symptoms, reporting, control measures etc.
Please see the separate Guidance Note on COSHH for further details on this aspect.
WHO IS AFFECTED?
In construction, a broad range of tasks and activities (e.g. painting or carpentry etc.) can create a risk of exposure to the main causes of respiratory disease.
Below is a table listing common sensitisers and other associated activities:
You will need to set up a system of health surveillance if your employees are exposed to respiratory sensitisers unless you are confident your COSHH assessment shows that there is unlikely to be a risk to their health.
DEALING WITH SENSITISED EMPLOYEES
Following health surveillance, if you believe an employee has become sensitised you will need to:
Remove the individual from working with the sensitiser and advise them to consult a doctor giving information on the work they do and the substances they may have been breathing.
Review your COSHH assessment and existing control measures and make any necessary changes.