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HSE begin inspecting businesses with silica exposure risk

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors have begun inspecting manufacturing businesses where materials that contain respirable crystalline silica (RCS) are used. This will include brick and tile manufacturers and foundries.

Silica is the biggest risk to construction workers after asbestos. Heavy and prolonged exposure to RCS can cause lung cancer and other serious respiratory diseases. HSE commissioned estimates it was responsible for  the death of over 500 construction workers in 2005. 

an orange excavator digging through a pile of rubble

Silica is naturally found in certain types of stone, rock, sand and clay. Working with these materials can create a very fine dust that can be easily inhaled.

Once inside the lungs, it causes  inflammation and gradually leads to areas of hardened and scarred lung tissue (fibrosis). Lung tissue that’s scarred in this way doesn’t function properly and diseases that may develop include silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (which covers bronchitis and emphysema) and lung cancer.

The NHS list people working  in the following industries as being at risk: 

  • stone masonry and stone cutting – especially with sandstone
  • construction and demolition – as a result of exposure to concrete and paving materials
  • worktop manufacturing and fitting
  • pottery, ceramics and glass manufacturing
  • mining and quarrying
  • sand blasting

The HSE are checking that employers and workers know the risks involved and that businesses have measures in place to protect workers’ health. This might include local exhaust ventilation, water suppression and personal protective equipment. If health and safety breaches are discovered, HSE will take enforcement action.

HSE’s head of manufacturing David Butter yesterday said: ‘It’s important that manufacturing businesses act now to ensure they comply with the law and protect their workers from serious lung diseases. Businesses should take note that good ventilation in the workplace and personal protective equipment are just some of the measures they need in place to protect the respiratory health of workers.

‘During the 2022 silica initiative, inspection findings indicated poor management of control measures including engineering controls, cleaning and housekeeping and RPE management. Employers should ensure control measures are used and maintained appropriately.

‘We want employers and workers to make sure they are aware of the risks associated with the activities they do. For example, brick and tile manufacture and foundry activities can create RCS dust that could be breathed in. To assist them we have advice and free resources on our Dust Kills campaign pages.’

Photo: zanck FL

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