Managing and monitoring dust during construction, whether new construction or renovation, is as critical to patient care as the bricks, mortar, and state-of-the-art medical equipment being provided. We have all seen reports and articles about construction dust in hospitals and the lawsuits that ensue when patients get sick. What we do not always hear is if the contaminated dust was a preexisting condition that could have been avoided if pretesting was done, thereby dictating encapsulating ceiling tile and drywall prior to demolition and removal.

Dust can transport airborne bacteria, including aspergillus. As defined in an article entitled, “Keeping dust down during healthcare construction”, “Aspergillus is a mold that is common in the natural environment. But it causes an invasive disease in hospital patients called aspergillosis, which looks and behaves much like tuberculosis. It can infect the sinus, ear, lung, central nervous system, prosthetic cardiac valves, gastrointestinal tract, bone, and skin. Symptoms include fever, cough, and sputum with blood and flecks of white or brown fungus material.” This information alone merits strong attention to dust control. If not managed and monitored properly during construction, the after affects of the dust that is left behind can be deadly.

During construction, it is important to track dust particles regularly with a particle counter to demonstrate that the dust control measures implemented during construction are working effectively to maintain acceptable indoor air quality for the workers, the staff, and the patients. If it is a renovation project, testing should be done before the construction begins to ensure the area is clean and to document the dust control standards.

To ensure the success of the monitoring and management of dust on the construction project, the plan must be written into every subcontract agreement. Furthermore, training for each and every worker needs to be conducted and reinforced throughout the construction activities so there is buy-in by the entire project team at every level.

No matter how well the project is cleaned after construction is completed, dust remains in the ceiling tiles, ductwork, carpet, and many other locations. Precautions need to be taken during construction to ensure the dust generated during construction is not left behind. This can be done by closely coordinating construction activities to make certain ceiling tile, carpet, millwork, HVAC startup, and other finishes commence after the major construction work is completed.

The bottom line is that dust is deadly. With the right precautions in place the overall health, welfare, and safety of everyone involved can be greatly enhanced.