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Risks from building materials used in green construction

July 31, 2013
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sustainability●Consider the relative health risks in the selection of the type of wood used. Use for example the information in the publication ‘Less dust’ of the European social partners in the wood industry (pages 7-8): www.cei-bois.org/files/Less_dust_brochure_GB_CORR_cropped.pdf

●Decrease the exposure to wood dust when sanding or sawing by using exhaust ventilation by the machines. Check the available guidance in English for example at: www.cei-bois.org/files/Less_dust_brochure_GB_CORR_cropped.pdf

After considering measures at source, and in addition to technical measures such as dust suppression by water or local exhaust ventilation (LEV):

For tasks that generate dust, do them outdoors as much as possible (e.g. if drilling, sawing or grinding small moveable objects, do these operations outside) or, if indoor, do them in separate areas so as not to expose other workers or, if not possible, do them when other workers are not present.

(Source: http://www.bona.com)

Clean work rooms (e.g. floors of buildings under construction) by vacuum or wet cleaning, in order to reduce recirculation of dust. Use industrial vacuum cleaners with high efficiency dust capturing filters (e.g. High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters).

●When measures at source, or technical or organizational measures are not sufficient to reduce effectively exposure to wood dust during sanding or sawing, use appropriate respiratory protection equipment (RPE): a half-face face piece or respirator covering the mouth and nose, equipped with a dust filter of class P2 or P3. Make sure that the RPE is properly maintained and that workers are trained in its proper use.

After considering measures at source such as ‘designing out’ the hazards (see the example of preventive measure 1.3): Decrease the exposure to silica dust, when drilling, abrading or grinding concrete or doing masonry work (e.g. in retrofitting), by using water sprays or exhaust ventilation at the machines. Review the available guidance, for example at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/guidance/cnseries.htm.

When measures at source, or technical or organizational measures are not sufficient to reduce effectively exposure to harmful silica dust during drilling, abrading or grinding concrete or masonry, use adequate respiratory protection equipment: dust masks. Make sure that the RPE is properly maintained and that workers are trained in Its proper use.

●Reduce exposure to protein-based allergens, moulds and fungi or endotoxins from renewable organic sources (such as sheep wool, bamboo, straw, flax, cork and wood) by:

●Getting statements from the supplier that the material meets specific criteria with respect to the content of allergens, moulds, fungi or endotoxins;

●Avoiding the use of water sprays to suppress dust generation, as this may increase the growth of bacteria that produce endotoxins, fungi, and moulds;

●Using low-dust generating techniques if you need to adapt the size of materials: e.g. cutting with a knife or scissors instead of sawing;

●Using equipment with built-in local exhaust ventilation when dust-generating activities cannot be avoided (e.g. drills, saws, grinding machines);

●Using respiratory protection equipment (RPE) if other measures have not been sufficient; e.g. dust masks, making sure that the RPE is properly maintained and that workers are trained in its proper use.

●Reduce exposure to dust and hazardous substances in recycled materials such as paper flakes or flax wool by:

●Using low-dust techniques to adapt the size of materials, if needed: e.g. cutting paper flake panels or flax wool sheets with a knife or scissors instead of sawing;

●Using equipment with built-in LEV when dust-generating activities cannot be avoided (e.g. drills, saws, grinding machines);

●Water-based paints or adhesives or (two-pack) reactive products such as epoxies or polyurethane coatings, adhesives or flooring materials have been introduced as ‘measures at source’ to substitute for less green and more hazardous conventional products (often solvent-based products). However, these products may contain irritating and sensitising substances. (Use databases such as GISBAU (German) to get assistance in selecting non-hazardous or least hazardous products - http://www.gisbau.de)

As a complete avoidance of skin contact to these products is generally not possible without the use of PPE, ensure that appropriate skin protection is provided or properly used.

Consult the relevant Safety Data Sheet for the selection of proper protective gloves, and for the maximum time of use for the substance(s) in question.

Leather, cotton and polyethylene gloves and gloves that contain allergens, such as latex, are generally not suitable. Furthermore, take into account the following:

●Preferably, use disposable gloves and use them only once as:

●Gloves may get contaminated inside when taking them off or putting them on;

●The skin may get contaminated when taking gloves off or putting them on.

●When non-disposable gloves are appropriate and chosen as protective equipment: bear in mind that hazardous substances will continue to penetrate through the glove during the time the gloves are not being worn, for example during breaks from work, but should be counted as part of their total time of use.

●Never put on gloves when the hands or the gloves are wet or contaminated.

●Do not use moisture-tight gloves longer than needed; hands may get wet as a result of perspiration within 10 minutes, which may lead to contact dermatitis.

●Prevent the effect of moisture from perspiration by using cotton inner gloves.

In addition, ensure that skin care is considered when water-based paints or adhesives or two-pack reactive products such as epoxies or polyurethane coatings, adhesives or flooring materials are used [4].

●Use a skin care cream before you start work, after every hand wash, and after work.

Source: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work

Provide sufficient ventilation during indoor application of solvent-based as well as water-based paints, adhesives or two-pack reactive products such as epoxies or polyurethane coatings, adhesives or flooring materials, by:

  • Ensuring that the building is not completely airtight until indoor finishing work has been completed as far as possible and practicable;
  • Enhancing natural ventilation by using mobile ventilators;
  • Preferably, using mobile LEV equipment that supplies fresh air from outside, and removes contaminated air, e.g. by using hoses.

The possibility that construction materials (e.g. coatings, concrete) contain nanomaterials has been checked with the supplier.

If the material may contain nanomaterials, exposure should be minimised because of the current uncertainties surrounding the potential health risks of nanomaterials. Exposure may be minimized by:

  • Considering materials that do not contain nanomaterials;
  • Avoiding activities that generate dust or aerosols (drilling, abrading, sawing, spraying etc.);

When glass wool or rock wool insulation materials are used: open the packaging only at the place of processing, in order to limit the area that may become contaminated by any loose fibres.

When glass wool or rock wool insulation blankets are used: avoid sawing them when tailoring. Instead, cut the blankets with a knife. This drastically reduces the exposure to irritating fibres [5].

If sawing of glass wool or rock wool insulation blankets is unavoidable, decrease the exposure to man-made mineral fibres by the use of water sprays or exhaust ventilation at the machines. Check the available guidance for example at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/guidance/cnseries.htm.

In addition to measures at source or exhaust ventilation, use respiratory protection when cutting glass wool or rock wool insulation materials (also during waste collection), or when applying paper flake insulation materials. Dust masks of class P2 will be sufficient.

In addition, provide skin protection and skin care during handling of glass wool or rock wool insulation materials.

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