HSE raise concerns over silica dust risk
Silica is a natural substance found in most rocks, sand and clay, and in products such as bricks and concrete. In the workplace these materials create dust when they are cut, sanded, carved or broken. Some of this dust is too fine to be visible in normal lighting, and when inhaled it lodges deep within the lungs and causes a wide range of debilitating respiratory conditions and potentially fatal lung diseases, such as lung cancer, silicosis, asthma, bronchitis and emphysema.
Evaluating RCS exposure
A new HSE report has recently been published which details the findings of a survey of respirable crystalline silica (RCS) dust exposure within the UK brick manufacturing and stone-working sectors. The aim of the project was to benchmark and compare the levels of exposure across twenty different sites. The evaluation involved site visits to measure silica dust exposures and assess the controls in place to contain and mitigate the hazard. In addition, the data from existing exposure reports from each site was also used to assess previous and historic dust exposure trends.
The study forms the first phase of a larger evaluation to examine, measure and estimate the long-term impact of silica dust exposure on workers' health. The project also aims to improve awareness of the health risks and identify good practice in relation to implementation of control measures to safe-guard against RCS.
Survey results call for greater dust control
The survey found that in both the sectors evaluated, over 20% of the measured exposures exceeded the UK respirable crystalline silica 8-hour time-weighted averaged workplace exposure limit (or WEL) of 0.1 mg/m3.
In the stone sector, over 40% of the 8 hour time-weighted average RCS exposures were above the RCS WEL, compared to 20% in the brick manufacturing sector. Also, within the stone sector, 61% of RCS exposures, where water suppression was present, exceeded the RCS WEL.
As a result, the report concludes,
"These results demonstrate that there is considerable scope for improvement in control... [and] indicates that a variety of exposure controls will be required to control RCS exposures, including respiratory protective equipment (RPE)."
According to the HSE's latest Testing and Monitoring Bulletin (April 2019), the report's findings clearly indicate,
"the continuing challenge of compliance with current exposure limits, even whilst lower limits are being proposed".
In addition, an investigation currently being undertaken by Safe Work Australia, looking at new WELS in relation to chronic exposure to silica and coal dust, recommends an even lower silica dust exposure limit of 0.02 mg/m3, to protect against fibrosis and silicosis, and minimise the risk of lung cancer.
Controlling RCS, protecting workers and keeping compliant
The HSE believes that quantifying exposure to hazardous substances is key to improving health within the work environment, and that analysis of exposure data enables us to determine the level of risk and test the effectiveness of control measures. It feels such evaluation is an integral part of health risk management and worker protection.
RVT is similarly passionate about protecting the health of site workers and the general public during construction projects, and recognises the danger to health caused by silica dust - the hidden killer. Our range of Dustex dust control products are designed to eliminate the risks of dust exposure, whilst our dust monitors will ensure that exposure levels remain within the predefined limits.
The Dustex range includes a variety of solutions, from vacuums with multiple extraction tools to large extraction units with powerful centrifugal fans designed to capture dust, fumes and other hot or volatile substances. RVT strongly believe that there is no 'one size fits all' solution, however the principles of dust control remain the same; Capture the hazard at source, Contain the wider area of activity, Control the potential impact of the hazard. Using this methodology, RVT can tailor a dust control solution to ensure you remain compliant with legislation and that your team of workers remain healthy.
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Click here for further details of the HSE bulletin and report findings: 'Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica in the GB Brick Manufacturing and Stone Working Industries', by Peter E J Baldwin, Timothy Yates, Helen Beattie, Chris Keen and Nicholas Warren.