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Respirable Crystalline Silica – are you aware of your responsibilities?

The dangers of asbestos are well known, but many contractors and workers are less aware of other substances that can cause cancers and respiratory diseases if inhaled over a long period.

Silica is a naturally occurring substances found in rocks, sand and clay and it products made from them such as bricks, blocks and concrete.  These materials produce dust when cut or sanded down.  Smaller particles can reach deep inside the lung if inhaled. 

Regular exposure can cause silicosis and lung cancers which are incapacitating and irreversible. Often these only become evident until several years after exposure. The HSE estimates that there are some 600 deaths a years as a result of exposure, 450 of which occur in the construction industry.

Where work with such materials is carried out, either in works or on side, the risks should be assessed and steps taken to control exposure.  Workers should be educated as to the risks and methods of reducing exposure. Steps should be taken to control dust in the workplace.  Workers should be provided with suitable respiratory equipment and their health should be monitored by an appropriate medical with records kept.    

Workplace exposure is subject to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH).  A Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) is defined as 0.1mg/m3 expressed as an 8-hour time-weighted average.

The type of control measures and protective equipment will depend on the tasks and materials involved. It is not usually possible to predict the level of RCS in any one situation as materials, tools used and working practices. Personal sampling is the best way of assessing the risk to any one individual.

Broadland Group can help with

  • Risk assessment and reduction
  • Workplace exposure monitoring
  • Advice on effective respiratory protective equipment
  • Advice on control of exposure
  • Advice on health surveillance.

More details of risks and control in specific industries will be found at the HSE website.