Health effects of air pollution

Reducing air pollution from construction sites

14 October 2022
4 min read

We’ve been working with the Centre for Low Emission Construction (CLEC) to find ways to reduce air pollution from construction sites.

A public health emergency and social justice crisis

Air pollution has devastating effects on people’s health. It causes 36,000 premature deaths in the UK every year, approximately 4,000 of those in London.  

Not only is air pollution a public health crisis, it’s a social justice issue. Again and again, research shows that it’s the least well off, as well as those from minoritised ethnicities, who are most affected by poor air quality. 

Interventions to date have mostly focused on traffic – the biggest source of air pollution – but construction is a major source of air pollution in cities. In London, for example, construction contributes approximately 30% to particulate matter (PM10). That means there’s an opportunity for businesses and government to improve air quality in around construction sites.  

We’ve explored what changes can and should be made in a new report in partnership with the Centre for Low Emission Construction (CLEC).  

We surveyed people working in the industry – including regulators, suppliers, and developers – so we can better understand attitudes toward air pollution and, ultimately, develop practical recommendations to improve air quality. 

Construction contributes significantly to air pollution 

Crucially, while other major sources of air pollution like transport have decreased polluting emissions due to policies like ultra-low emissions zones, the construction industry has increased its overall share of emissions in recent decades. 

Graph that shows the increasing constribution from the construction industry to the total amount of Particulate Matter 10 (PM10) to UK emissions from 1994-2018. PM10 is the fraction of particulate matter where particles are less than 10 micrometres in diameter. As of 2018, the construction industry contributed approximately 19% of all PM10 emissions in the UK.

People who work on construction sites, as well as people living nearby, are most at risk from being exposed to the highest concentrations of emissions from sites. 

How did this project aim to improve air quality?

Our research with CLEC has led to a series of recommendations for future work that will seek to improve air quality in and around sites. 

Who will find these results useful and how can they act on them?

  • People working in the construction industry: The report provides an insight into how to reduce polluting emissions from construction sites. There is also information about the likely pathway of future regulation and policies. 
  • Local policymakers: The report includes a series of practical recommendations that local policymakers can implement through a phased approach. 
  • National policymakers: The report contains one of a kind piece research into the construction sector’s attitudes and needs. It provides recommendations for future regulations and policies to set a clear pathway for the construction industry to follow.  
  • Funders focused on health, environmental, and air quality issues: The report includes a series of recommendations that can feed into strategies for funding of work and, ultimately, that can reduce emissions from construction sites. 

Air quality and emissions in construction report

Key findings

  • We found that attitudes to air pollution within the sector reflect the scale of this public health crisis: 97% of people surveyed said that air quality is an “extremely or very important environmental health concern”. 
  • The construction industry wants regulation to provide clarity and a level playing field. And interventions to improve air quality around construction sites should align with net zero efforts. 
  • A clear regulatory pathway is needed. While regulations have helped to drive some action, more ambition and clarity is needed to stimulate adoption of clean technologies and working practices, and ultimately to improve health. 
  • There are practical actions the sector, local authorities and the UK Government can take which can improve air quality across the UK. 


of people surveyed said that air quality is an “extremely or very important environmental health concern


We recommend three approaches for reducing air pollution emissions from construction: 

  1. That Government, the construction industry and stakeholders ensure compliance with existing legislation: Local government lacks both the evidence to monitor whether existing regulations are being met, and the resources to intervene when they are not. Better compliance could mean more local authority officers visiting sites to ensure compliance with dust management policies. 
  2. Encouraging adoption of low emission approaches: The adoption of new technologies will provide the demand needed to influence supply change. But it must be supported by educating and training groups within the construction industry, making them aware of available technology, its impacts, and benefits.
  3. Developing a pathway to enhanced regulation: The construction industry is overwhelmingly supportive of reducing air pollution but needs a steer from government to give certainty around what regulations are to come and stimulate investment into clean technologies. 

What’s clear is that reducing polluting emissions from construction sites is vital for people’s health across the UK, and particularly in cities. Effective action can be taken to reduce the sector’s air pollution emissions, but these efforts must be underpinned by regulations to encourage long-term change. 

Ben Pearce

Please get in touch if you'd like to talk to us about air quality and construction

Contact Ben Pearce, Portfolio Manager

Contact Ben