CCS, a non-profit body, surveyed more than 600 workers from sites in the UK and Ireland in November and December 2017. The findings show that 84% of respondents believed air pollution created by the industry was an issue, while nearly two-thirds (64%) said the sector needed to do more to address it.
Construction dust as well as exhaust fumes from heavy machinery contributes significantly to poor air quality in the UK. Breathing in polluted air can cause health problems, such as respiratory illnesses, asthma, bronchitis and cancer, among workers and the general public and is estimated to cost the economy more than £20bn a year.
The CCS poll also found that 88% believed the importance of improving air quality was communicated to the workforce on their site, and 62% said their site had appropriate measures to tackle pollutants.
However, only just over half (56%) of those questioned said they had a good or detailed understanding of the issue, while less than two-fifths (39%) had an average understanding of the regulations on air pollution.
CCS said of the findings: “While some of the survey results were encouraging, there are clearly areas for improvement and the need for the industry to work together to help reduce air pollution.”
The organisation has launched a new campaign called “Spotlight on… air pollution” to raise awareness of the issue. It features an online hub with information targeted mainly at contractors on how to minimise air pollution on construction sites.
On dust control, it lists several steps site management can take to minimise dust levels, such as: vehicle management, including reducing idling, wheel washing and the use of dust suppression and extraction systems; using chutes, conveyors and covered skips; minimising cutting, grinding and sawing; and restrictions on burning.
It says that regular site inspections could also ensure low dust levels.
The hub includes case studies from Costain, Mace, Sir Robert McAlpine and Transport for London, plus regulatory information.
The two main forms of air pollutants are nitrogen dioxide (NO2) from diesel engines, and particulate matter comprising small airborne solid and liquid particles.
Construction workers are particularly vulnerable to NO2, according to CCS, due to their proximity to polluting vehicles. In 2005, the Health and Safety Executive found that 234 construction workers died from exposure to diesel engine exhaust fumes (this figure has not been updated since).
CCS chief executive Edward Hardy said: “A staggering 40,000 deaths a year are linked to air pollution in the UK and many people are suffering long-term health problems caused by poor air quality. As construction is a significant contributor to air pollution, it is essential for the industry to put measures in place to clean up our air by working together to reduce our impact on air quality.
“[Our campaign] provides everyone within the industry access to a practical suite of resources, including best practice, guidance and case studies from Scheme-registered construction sites, companies and suppliers on how to tackle this issue, as well as guidance from organisations including the Institute of Air Quality Management, Health Air Campaign and the Greater London Authority.
“We are proud to be at the forefront of collaborative efforts to tackle air pollution, having partnered with the Institution of Civil Engineers to produce posters for registered sites, companies and suppliers to raise the issue of air pollution to their workforce.”
In 2016 IOSH launched the respirable crystalline silica element of its occupational cancer campaign “No Time to Lose” to reduce the number of new cases of lung cancer attributed to past exposure to silica dust in construction, granite and stone industries.
It is estimated that nearly 800 people a year die from lung cancer caused by silica exposure in Britain’s workplaces.