Cutting with a Petrol Saw - The Deadly Dust Cloud
Every day landscapers and construction contractors use petrol driven cut off saws (disc cutters) to cut slabs, bricks, block pavers, roofing tiles and a host of other materials, quite often with little or no regard for the hazard that comes from the material they are cutting.
Natural stone and concrete materials used in landscaping and construction contain Silica, in some instances the material can be up to 90% Silica (Sandstone as an example). Silica dust can cause Silicosis and is one of the main causes in the Construction and Landscaping industry of Cancer and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). These conditions are irreversible and ultimately fatal. Once Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) is in your lungs it remains there, slowly and progressively damaging the lungs and reducing the transfer of oxygen into your blood.
Dry- cutting stone, concrete or brick using a petrol cut-off saw (disc-cutter) or electric grinder will generate dust which is the main source of exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica.
In an effort to reduce the amount of dry-cutting, from October 2012, you now also risk being hit with a financial cost from the Health and Safety Executive. Their intervention comes not only because dry-cutting is an extreme hazard, but also because failing to take adequate action to protect the operator is also illegal.
So, what is the law?
For the Employer, the Legislation that relates to Silica dust at work is in Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
Section 2(1) says ‘It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees’.
Section 2(2) extends the duty to:-
- (a) The provision and maintenance of plant and systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health;
- (b) Arrangements for ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, safety and absence of risks to health in connection with the use, handling, storage and transport of articles and substances;
Proof of failure in connection to controlling dust is contained in the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) in particular, Regulation 7 – Prevention and Control of Exposure. The regulation states that the principal duty is to prevent exposure so far as is reasonably practicable. Where this can’t be achieved, exposure must be adequately controlled. Adequacy of control is determined by reference to the principles of good practice and Work Exposure Limits (WEL). In the case of Silica dust that means the operator is requires to wear personal protection and the dust must be supressed with water or adequately extracted.
For the Employee, Under Section 7(b) of the Health and safety at Work Act 1974, any employee is required ‘to cooperate with employers to enable the employers to meet their duty under the Health & Safety at Work Act’. This means that if the employer has taken all the required steps in providing training, supervision and equipment so that the law can be followed, the responsibility is then with the employee to act within law or fear prosecution.
For the detail, depending on the grade or fineness of the Silica dust generated when cutting the material, legal limits or ‘Workplace Exposure Limits’ as they are known, vary from 6mg/m3 to as low as 0.1mg/m3 in any 8 hour day, and that is less than the amount of dust you could pinch between two fingers.
We will be regularly reviewing what you should be doing about problems like dust, how you can control it and how you can make it safer to cut slabs bricks, block paving and other materials. We will look at how to ensure you are acting within the law and what the penalties may be if you fail to comply with regulations. We will also look at what training is now available so that you and your employees can safely use a petrol saw.