Dust at workplace

Dust at workplace: Good afternoon Science ASSIST.

There is construction(renovation) going on adjacent to my lab. A hole has been knocked down to create an entrance to the new student's lab and the renovation of two additional classes for the Science area. While the construction is going on, we are still expected to carry out our duties.

My HOD is really good and told us to minimise going into the lab. The whole lab is covered in very fine crystalline silica from the cutting of the bricks and the concrete slab (to put in new wiring). Nothing has been said about the clean up after the work has been completed. We were told the work should only take 2 1/2 weeks. Could you advise on what our rights are with regards to this matter please. Should the lab technicians be responsible for the clean up?

The dust is in every nook and corner of my lab.

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Publication Date: 17 November 2015
Asked By: Anonymous
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Dust at workplace

In brief

Exposure to dust 

Workers should not be exposed to construction dust without suitable protection. Exposure to fine dust is a concern because the inhalation of these particles has the potential to cause respiratory diseases or to exacerbate existing respiratory conditions (such as asthma). For further information see the links below regarding exposure to dust.


When you have concerns about performing your work in an environment that may have an adverse effect on your health, it is important to communicate with your employer, either directly or through a health and safety representative. Each state and territory has similar legislation allowing for the election of health and safety representative in workplaces, who will then work collaboratively so that appropriate action can be taken to address and resolve safety issues. For further information, see the links below regarding health and safety representatives.

Clean up

The responsibility of who cleans up the dust is an industrial matter to work out at a school level. A certain level of cleaning up should be undertaken by the builder, as it is a construction site. However, if the dust has spread throughout the preparation area and onto scientific equipment, then this may best be cleaned by someone who has knowledge of science equipment. It would be reasonable to expect that either a cleaning contractor or extra help is provided to assist with cleaning. Safety precautions should be taken to minimise the redistribution of dust during the clean-up process.

Future planning

Whilst it may be too late for your situation, it is recommended that schools consider planning for upgrading facilities during school holiday breaks to minimise the disruption to the effective support of the teaching programme. Where renovations are already occurring, construction areas should be isolated from occupied areas of the school. If dust is being generated through construction activity, the area should be sealed to prevent the dust dispersing to occupied parts of the building. Equipment should be either covered to protect them from dust or be relocated. For further information, see the links below regarding management of renovations on school sites.

Additional information

Links regarding exposure to dust

Safe Work Australia. 2010. National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance: Exposure to dust, gases, vapours, smoke and fumes and the provision of controls for these airborne hazards in Australian workplaces, Safe Work Australia website http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/about/Publications/Documen... see p 1 Summary and p47 Main recommendations

‘Dust’, Health and Safety executive website. http://www.hse.gov.uk/construction/faq-dust.htm (Accessed November 2015)

Department of Commerce, WorkSafe Division, Guide to using dust masks in construction work, WA Department of Commerce website, https://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/sites/default/files/atoms/files/guide_to_using_dust_mask.pdf     (Accessed November 2015)

Department of Commerce, WorkSafe Division. 2013. Hazardous or combustible dusts, fumes and fibres, WA Department of Commerce website, http://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/sites/default/files/atoms/files/dust_fume_fibre.pdf

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland. 2013. Silica lung factsheet, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland website. https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/83130/silica-lung-factsheet.pdf  

‘Silica’, OHS Reps @work website, http://www.ohsrep.org.au/hazards/chemicals/silica (May 2015)

‘Silica’, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/silica/ (June 2015)

Links regarding health and safety representatives

ACT: ‘Health and Safety Representatives [HSR]’, Worksafe ACT website. https://www.accesscanberra.act.gov.au/app/home#/workhealthandsafety  (January 2015)

NSW: ‘Health and safety representatives’, WorkCover NSW website. https://www.safework.nsw.gov.au/safety-starts-here/[email protected]/hea... (Link updated, October 2018)

NT: ‘Health and Safety Representatives’, Worksafe NT website, http://www.worksafe.nt.gov.au/SafetyAndPreventions/HealthAndSafetyRepres... (Accessed January 2016)

Qld: ‘Health and safety representatives and health and safety committees’, WorkCover Queensland website, https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/injury-prevention-safety/managing-risks/health-and-safety-representatives-and-health-and-safety-committees (October 2015)

SA: ‘Health and Safety Representatives’, SafeWork SA website, https://www.safework.sa.gov.au/workers/consultation-and-representation/health-and-safety-representatives/stopping-unsafe-work (Updated May 2020)

Tas: ‘Health and safety representatives’, WorkSafe Tasmania website, https://worksafe.tas.gov.au/topics/Health-and-Safety/managing-safety/health-and-safety-representatives-hsr (Updated December 2019)

Vic: ‘Elected Health And Safety Representatives’, WorkSafe Victoria website, https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/resources/electing-health-and-safety-representatives (Link updated June 2019)

WA: ‘Safety and health representatives’, Worksafe WA website, https://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/worksafe/safety-and-health-representatives-0  (May 2014)

Links regarding management of renovations on school sites

‘Air quality and school renovation’, Vermont (USA) Department of Health website, http://www.healthvermont.gov/environment/school (Accessed November 2015)

Healthy Schools Network Inc. 2012, School Renovation and Construction: What you need to know to protect child and adult environmental health, Healthy Schools Network website, http://www.healthyschools.org/downloads/Renovation_and_Construction_Guide.pdf

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