Remodeling and construction dust | Pro Construction Guide

Hazards of remodeling and construction dust

Make sure workers are wearing masks.

Make sure workers are protecting themselves by wearing masks.

It’s time to change how you think about construction dust.  Become aware of the potential hazards of remodeling and construction dust.

It’s far more than just a nuisance—silica, lead, wood and asbestos dust all pose serious health risks to contractors, remodelers and their customers.

“Contractors may not want to go out of their way to control dust,” says Fernando Pagés Ruiz, author of Affordable Remodel: How to Get Custom Results on any Budget, “but when you show up to work, customers expect you to be perfect. You might have completed a beautiful plumbing job, but if you completely trashed the work area, that’s what the customer will notice.”

One of the most common mistakes, says Ruiz, is failure to wear protective masks. “It’s the role of the supervisor to make sure workers are using some kind of personal protective equipment for protecting themselves from dust,” he says.

In 2010, new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on lead-based paint renovation and repair meant major changes for contractors who work on homes and facilities built before 1978. Under the new legislation, contractors must use lead-safe work practices, complete an eight-hour class to become certified renovators, and have all employees trained by a certified renovator.

“Keeping the jobsite clean is an opportunity for remodelers to do a better job; to satisfy their customers and to provide a better experience for their customers,” says Brindley Byrd, a consultant, certified lead risk assessor and member of the National Association of Home Builders lead work group. “Satisfying your customer should be the biggest motivator.”

Minimize dust creation

To avoid the hazards of remodeling and construction dust, reduce dust where you work:

  • Mist areas before sanding, scraping, drilling or cutting
  • Use a wet saw to cut masonry or concrete
  • Use HEPA exhaust control while high-speed sanding, grinding, power planing, abrasive blasting or sandblasting
  • Score paint and pull apart components, rather than pounding and hammering, to produce less dust and fewer paint chips during demolition
  • Use dust-reducing materials when possible. For example, reduce exposure to silica dust by using abrasives that contain less than 1 percent crystalline silica, and Sheetrock Plus 3 with dust control from USG is designed to create less dust than traditional joint compound when sanded.

Keep dust contained

Dust-proof a doorway

How to dust-proof a doorway. Fold protective sheeting at top and bottom before taping, leaving slack.  Use duct tape or painter’s tape to attach protective sheeting to the perimeter of the opening. Leave slack at top and bottom. Staple corner for reinforcement. Cut slit in protective sheeting to within 6 inches of top and bottom. Staple corners for reinforcement.  Tape another sheet of protective sheeting to top of the door, just short of the floor. Staple top corners.

To keep dust contained in the work area, remove all objects from the work area or cover them with plastic sheeting and seal the seams and edges with duct tape.

Then tape plastic sheeting on the floor of the work area and 6 feet beyond, and cover doors and openings using 6 mil poly protective sheeting and tape.

Keep dust from spreading through the HVAC system by turning the system off and taping poly sheeting over all supply and return registers, and ventilate the area, if possible.

“A simple exhaust fan vented out a window will create just enough negative pressure to ensure air and dust blows out of the house,” says Ruiz. Clean Up Daily Clean the area at the end of each day. Place trash and debris in heavy-duty bags and remove it daily. Clean tools and vacuum the work area with a HEPA vacuum; using a broom or standard vacuum will propel dust into the air.

If asbestos dust is present, wet mop; never vacuum or sweep. After work is completed, EPA’s new lead-safe work practices require thorough cleaning of the area to be sure no dust, debris or residue remains.

Before removing sheeting, mist it with water, fold the dirty side in and tape it shut; dispose of the sheeting. HEPA-vacuum all surfaces, including walls, and wash all uncarpeted floors, countertops and windowsills with a wet disposable cleaning cloth. Under the new law, verification of the cleaning is required.

Be certified

“The first thing contractors should do is become aware of the potential hazards—for workers and building occupants—of creating any kind of dust,” says Byrd. Free training to identify the hazards of remodeling and construction dust is available through the National Paint and Coatings Association. Individuals who successfully complete an accredited lead abatement course now can opt for a four-hour refresher course instead of an eight-hour course when the certification process begins in 2009.

“Dust control is a simple way contractors can distinguish themselves, and it’s not particularly expensive,” says Ruiz. “By improving customer satisfaction, dust control costs become investments. With benefits for both your health and your bottom line, now may be the right time to make dust control part of your strategy.”

— By Joanne Costin

Dangerous dust

Type of Dust
Activities Where Dust May Be Present
Health Hazard*
Construction dust
Any construction or remodeling activity
Dust is an effective transporter of Aspergillus, a mold that causes an invasive disease in hospital patients called Aspergillosis.
Any remodeling or repair activity that disturbs paint in pre-1978 housing and child-occupied facilities, including maintenance, electrical work, plumbing, painting, carpentry and window replacement

Lead dust can affect the brains and nervous systems of children and can cause high blood pressure and hypertension in adults. Pregnant women exposed to lead can transfer lead to the unborn child.

Masonry and concrete work, dry-sweeping concrete mortar and sand, sanding/finishing drywall joints, demolition of concrete and masonry structures or plaster ceiling/walls, loading, hauling and dumping rock.

Can cause silicosis—lung damage caused by breathing dust containing extremely fine particles of crystalline silica.

Major remodeling may disturb asbestos material. Asbestos may be present in roofing and siding shingles; insulation in houses built between 1930 and 1950; textured paint and patching compounds used on wall and ceiling joints before 1977; and vinyl tile.
Asbestos is known to cause lung cancer; mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity; and asbestosis, in which the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue.
Sanding, sawing or shaping wood
Exposure has been associated with dermatitis, asthma, hypersensitivity pneumontis, chronic bronchitis and cancer.

* The health hazards of remodeling and construction dust are recognized by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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