The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Respiratory Health has urged the Government to take action to prevent the ‘next asbestos’ from taking more lives in the UK.
The APPG and not-for-profit organisation B&CE’s joint report, Silica – the next asbestos?, examines the danger posed by respirable crystalline silica (RCS); the biggest risk to construction workers’ health after asbestos.
Around 600,000 UK workers are exposed to RCS each year, which is created when bricks or stone are either fractured, cut or drilled into. This can cause silicosis, the most common chronic occupational lung disease in the world. In Australia, the recent rise in cases of silicosis has been described as an ‘emerging occupational health epidemic’.
The new report calls on the Government to take a number of crucial steps to address these issues and protect construction workers from exposure to RCS. These recommendations include:
- Halving the workplace exposure limit (WEL) for RCS in the UK from 0.1mg/m3 to 0.05mg/m3 in line with the 2003 recommended exposure standard from the Scientific Committee on Occupation Exposure Limits
- Developing and implementing a targeted industry awareness campaign for those at risk of developing silicosis
- Introducing occupational health services into GP surgeries to allow for occupational histories to be taken where work-related ill health is suspected
- Introducing new health and safety regulations specifically relating to the control of respirable crystalline silica (RCS), to bring it into line with asbestos
- Introducing an NHS screening programme for those exposed to RCS
Jim Shannon MP, Chair of the APPG for Respiratory Health, said:
“This inquiry has given us real insight into the steps being taken to improve at-work health, especially around the issue of silica dust. We hope this report will assist the Health and Safety Executive, the Government and the construction industry to shine light on an under-documented issue and protect the construction workforce from preventable injury and illnesses.”Jim Shannon MP
One of those to submit evidence to the inquiry was Gordon Sommerville, 59, from Scotland, who retired from his work as a stone mason and builder due to ill-health. In his evidence, he recalled almost non-existent levels of industry awareness to the dangers of inhaling dust at the start of his 38-year career. He said:
“Today, colleges teach stoneworkers of the dangers, the HSE runs awareness campaigns and larger companies will supply employees with respiratory protection. But still the danger of dust has not filtered through to most and ignorance is still the major cause of dust diseases.”Gordon Sommerville
Gregg McClymont, director of policy at B&CE, said:
“The aim of this report is to start a long-overdue conversation between Government, Parliament, health bodies and the construction industry about how to tackle silicosis; an entirely preventable, often fatal, condition. I want to thank all the organisations and individuals who took the time to submit evidence, along with the officers of the APPG for their interest in and commitment to raising awareness around the risks of silica dust.”Gregg McClymont
Download the full report to find out about our extensive research and recommendations…
Notes to editors:
- B&CE is a not-for-profit organisation, founded by the construction industry in 1942, that offers workplace pensions, employee accident cover and employee life cover.
- Link to report in here
- In a 2014 report the HSE stated that silica is the biggest risk to construction workers after asbestos. http://www.hse.gov.uk/construction/healthrisks/cancer-and-construction/silica-dust.htm
- In July 2019, The Australian Department of Public Health launched its Taskforce into Silicosis and Other Dust Disease
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