By John Gibb

The landscaping season has begun! Possibly some folks reading this may be planning some work. If so, please keep reading. Installing various types and sizes of paving stones for patios, walkways and driveways is quite common. Many of the stones must be cut to size on-site. Unfortunately, the majority of this cutting is done with a dry saw blade and most readers have seen the immediate results. Dense clouds of grey or brownish dust obscure your view of the workers then drift across the sidewalk, street and neighbouring properties.

This dust presents a concern that no doubt some readers share. Concrete and paving stones used for driveways and other landscaping have a very high silica content. During dry cutting with a power saw, very fine silica particulate is released and remains airborne so that it may easily be blown off-site by even a light breeze.

When enough silica dust is inhaled it may cause a lung cancer called silicosis. Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act designates silica as a substance requiring specific control measures to prevent human exposure. The Act does not apply to worker protection at our residential properties.

Last year, I looked up our street as a parent pushing a baby carriage along the sidewalk was suddenly and directly exposed to a cloud of dust. Cutting had begun without apparent awareness of or regard for their presence and thus for their safety.

I’ve spoken to workers on a number of occasions regarding their knowledge about their own exposure along with the fact they are exposing adults and children of all ages while dry cutting. In this case, as previously experienced, workers claimed to be aware of the hazards but preferred dry cutting by claiming that wet cutting soiled their clothing. Also, it is rare to see approved respirators provided for the workers. 

Fortunately, City of Toronto Bylaw 1088-2018 prohibits dry cutting of stone and concrete, and permits us to lodge a complaint when we encounter clouds of silica laden dust. The bylaw lists a number of acceptable dust prevention measures including the use of water applied sufficiently to the material being cut or directly by using a wet saw attached to a standard garden hose. A quick search confirmed that wet concrete cutting saws are readily available for purchase or rental in our area.

Please consult the bylaw by googling Toronto dust bylaw to see the full list of acceptable control measures. All you need to do in order to initiate an inspection is to dial 311 and state that you are calling about stone cutting dust at a specified residential property. You’ll provide your contact information so a Buildings Department employee may call you to determine the response priority for your complaint. You may be asked if you are able to provide a photo taken at a safe distance of the dust during cutting operations.

 This byaw exists for everyone’s protection and for everyone’s use.