Is your vacuum cleaner killing you?
For the average contractor cleaning up after completing a job is more than likely one of the last things on their mind, and when it does come around the trusty time tested vacuum cleaner is hauled out of the van and put to work, this is where the problem lies. The average vacuum cleaner is not designed to be used with hazardous dust, and this puts the operator in danger.
What hazardous substances are found on the average site and why should I worry?
Many substances found within the modern construction site can be very hazardous to health. Below are just a couple of the hazardous substances found and the health problems that they present.
Asbestos – Responsible for around 4000 deaths a year. As we all know it is carcinogenic (cancer causing) and it is surprising how often the average contractor may come into contact with it. It can be found on almost every site, at schools, factories and even in homes. It can be found within textured coatings, insulation, lagging and even within cement products. The dust released when asbestos is disturbed causes asbestosis that in turn can cause cancer.
Brick and plaster dust – This is a substance that is present on almost every building site across the country. With familiarity often comes complacency; however dust containing fine silica particles such as sand, brick dust and plaster dust can cause Silicosis. This condition over time damages lung tissue through fibrosis, replacing healthy lung tissue with hard nodules of scar tissue.
So what does my vacuum cleaner have to do with this?
You have finished a long day on site, and the last thing to do is clear up before you leave. You grab the vacuum cleaner off the van and set to work. It is the same vacuum cleaner model that you have been using for nearly a decade, and it has never let you down. This vacuum cleaner however does not have any advanced filtration capabilities and offers no protection against hazardous dust exposure.
Why is my vacuum cleaner not suitable for hazardous dust?
A vacuum cleaner works by drawing in large amounts of air, as this air is pulled into the vacuum cleaner the dust you are vacuuming up is also sucked up. This air needs somewhere to go, as it can’t keep building up inside the vacuum there just isn’t enough room. So the air is filtered and then expelled from the exhaust located on the back of the vacuum.
This is where hazardous dusts really become a problem. In a conventional “standard” vacuum cleaner the filters that clean the air before it is expelled from the vacuum are not fine enough to stop small particles of workshop waste dust, Asbestos and Silica from entering the air. The operator then breathes in this air, normally without even realising it (or thinking about it at least)and this is when the damage begins. We have all seen how much dust floats around in the air on site when a ray of sunlight comes through a window, and how quickly something that has been cleaned gets a fresh coating of dust.
Can I harm others by using a ‘normal’ vacuum cleaner?
By using a normal vacuum cleaner to hoover up hazardous dust you not only put yourself at risk, but those around you. The dust in the exhaust of the vacuum is released into the air where anyone in the area can then breathe it in.
Health and Safety rules will soon be changing and there have already been a few cases where contractors have been prosecuted for exposing co-workers and the general public to hazardous dusts.
So what vacuum should I be using?
When there is any likelihood that hazardous dusts are present an advanced filtration or cyclonic hazardous dust vacuum cleaner should be used. These vacuum cleaners incorporate filters with an efficiency rating of 99.97% (Hazardous Dust Vacuum Range). These vacuum cleaners can also multi task, so in one machine you effectively have an Asbestos Vacuum Cleaner and a brick dust vacuum cleaner.
Hazardous dust vacuum cleaners really are a necessity rather than an optional item for every contractor out there. The necessity for a hazardous dust vacuum cleaners is not contractor specific either, school workshops, concrete plants and anywhere else that fine dust is present there is a necessity for an advanced filtration vacuum cleaner.
Further Reading on the health risks that hazardous dusts present can be found on the following links:
- Asbestos – http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/index.htm
- Silicosis – http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/physical_health/conditions/silicosis1.shtml
- MDF / Workshop Dust- http://www.hse.gov.uk/woodworking/woodnig/woodn16.pdf
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