Demolition: How to make a dangerous industry safer

According to the European Union, “demolition is the most dangerous construction”.1 That’s not an especially surprising conclusion when you consider falling objects and the risk of being struck by large pieces of building material. However, much smaller fragments are a health risk too.

Every demolition project – large or small – generates a quantity of dust, and dust of any description can bring about long-term health problems. This is particularly relevant with indoor demolition or demolition using hand tools. Working indoors means that dusts of various materials can build up to reach high concentrations, and hand tools demand that workers get very close to the sources of dust.

Silica dust the most dangerous substance

Respirable crystalline silica is probably the most prevalent threat in demolition projects. Silica dust is almost always released when stone or concrete buildings are demolished or partly demolished. Silica is a very common substance, but its fine dust is carcinogenic. Inhaling it over a long period can lead to silicosis – an irreversible lung condition with a number of debilitating symptoms.

When older buildings are destroyed, a wide range of hazardous materials can be released into the atmosphere. Demolition can involve working with buildings of any age, so there is always a possibility of encountering substances that would be prohibited or controlled in modern constructions. Asbestos, lead and heavy metals can be acutely toxic to humans, so the risk of inhaling particles of these substances must be taken seriously.

Portabel HEPA-filtered dust extractors crucial

In protecting yourself and your workforce against demolition dust, knowledge is key. It’s vital that you’re properly trained in the dangers of exposure, and that everyone knows how to operate equipment properly and are aware of its capabilities and limitations. Such equipment will almost certainly include personal protective equipment such as respirators. When working indoors, portable HEPA-filtered dust extractors are also likely to be crucial. These remove dust and particulate matter from the atmosphere, protecting both workers and other people in the wider surroundings from airborne toxic substances.

1. European Agency for Safety and Health at Work:

Dustcontrol, Box 3088, Kumla Gårdsväg 14, 145 03 Norsborg, SWEDEN