Modern plaster is most often based on gypsum, which is not in itself classified as a hazardous substance. Nevertheless, dust of any type can damage health, and working with plaster can generate quantities of dust that could lead to health problems if not handled correctly.
While wet and being applied to surfaces, plaster does not give rise to dust. The problems occur when it is in its dry state: either in its powder form both before and during mixing, or as dust generated when dry plaster surfaces are being sanded.
Plasterboard itself is not a hazardous substance and therefore does not pose a substantial risk unless creating major dust during cutting and preparing. However, what many are unaware of is that the compounds used to seal the joints between each board sometimes contain hazardous materials, including respirable silica. When the joints are sanded, the dust released therefore presents a potential hazard.
The type of conditions plaster dust can lead to, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), take time to manifest, so the danger is that the long-term health consequences are underestimated and adequate precautions are not taken to prevent dust being inhaled.
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It may be possible to continue working while exposed to dust on a regular basis without any immediate impact on health being apparent, but the nature of COPD and silicosis is that they get progressively worse as more and more dust is inhaled.