Determinants of dust exposure in tunnel construction work

Appl Occup Environ Hyg. 2002 Nov;17(11):783-96. doi: 10.1080/10473220290096032.


In tunnel construction work, dust is generated from rock drilling, rock bolting, grinding, scaling, and transport operations. Other important dust-generating activities are blasting rock and spraying wet concrete on tunnel walls for strength and finishing work. The aim of this study was to identify determinants of dust exposure in tunnel construction work and to propose control measures. Personal exposures to total dust, respirable dust, and alpha-quartz were measured among 209 construction workers who were divided into 8 job groups performing similar tasks: drill and blast workers, shaft drilling workers, tunnel boring machine workers, shotcreting operators, support workers, concrete workers, outdoor concrete workers, and electricians. Information on determinants was obtained from interviewing the workers, observation by the industrial hygienist responsible for the sampling, and the job site superintendent. Multivariate regression models were used to identify determinants associated with the dust exposures within the job groups. The geometric mean exposure to total dust, respirable dust, and alpha-quartz for all tunnel workers was 3.5 mg/m(3) (GSD = 2.6), 1.2 mg/m(3) (GSD = 2.4), and 0.035 mg/m(3) (GSD = 5.0), respectively. A total of 15 percent of the total dust measurements, 5 percent of the respirable dust, and 21 percent of the alpha-quartz exceeded the Norwegian OELs of 10 mg/m(3), 5 mg/m(3), and 0.1 mg/m(3), respectively. Job groups with highest geometric mean total dust exposure were shotcreting operators (6.8 mg/m(3)), tunnel boring machine workers (6.2 mg/m(3)), and shaft drilling workers (6.1 mg/m(3)). The lowest exposed groups to total dust were outdoor concrete workers (1.0 mg/m(3)), electricians (1.4 mg/m(3)), and support workers (1.9 mg/m(3)). Important determinants of exposure were job group, job site, certain tasks (e.g., drilling and scaling), the presence of a cab, and breakthrough of the tunnel. The use of ventilated, closed cabs appeared to be the single most important control measure for lowering exposures.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cohort Studies
  • Construction Materials / adverse effects
  • Construction Materials / analysis*
  • Dust / analysis*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Epidemiological Monitoring
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maximum Allowable Concentration
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Occupational Health
  • Particle Size
  • Probability
  • Quartz / adverse effects
  • Quartz / analysis*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sampling Studies
  • Silicosis / epidemiology
  • Silicosis / etiology*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric


  • Dust
  • Quartz