Silicosis Threat An Important PPE Reminder For Bosses

Industry News By Sarah

There are many issues that company managers and staff can learn from in a health and safety class, but few are more important than when and how to use personal protective equipment (PPE).

While the need to protect against abrasion, cuts and hard impacts may be obvious and easily recognised (although unsafe and unlawful failings can and do occur), the matter of facial PPE to protect against inhaling dangerous airborne particles can be overlooked.

Back in the depths of the pandemic, using masks to protect against completely invisible germs was mandatory in some circumstances and advised in others, but in some workplaces, there can be different dangers. This is particularly true when there is dust around.

In cases where this involved natural rock materials, many of the dangers have been known for years. Historically, miners have often suffered from respiratory diseases like pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, especially those who worked without PPE.

While the UK’s coal mines have closed, new threats have emerged, including one from the modern fashion of having kitchen worktops made from slabs of stone, such as quartz.

High silica-engineered stone quartz has now been banned in Australia after it was found workers who had been cutting the slabs of it were at an elevated risk of suffering silicosis. The i newspaper has reported that the first cases have now been recorded in the UK, amid fears there could be a ticking time bomb of suffering due to the material’s popularity.

The condition is caused by inhalation of crystalline silica dust and is incurable. Elsewhere, state authorities in California have implemented stricter safety procedures to protect workers following a series of cases of stonemasons dying of lung cancer in middle age.

No such limitations exist in the UK, as the finished product poses no threat to householders with one in their kitchen. But one company providing such worktops, Kent-based Herringbones, has decided to stop making them.

As such, any company that is working with the material in Britain may do so lawfully, but extra care should be taken with PPE to prevent inhalation of the material. Speaking to the i, lawyer Daniel Easton warned that the UK may be “sitting on an epidemic” of looming cases. He likened the impact of silica inhalation to that of asbestosis for a previous generation.

The issue of asbestos does require particular attention. Exposure to it and the threat of suffering the fatal lung disease mesothelioma led to the material being banned as a means of fireproofing in 1999.

Since the material remains in place in some buildings, there are particularly strict rules in place, contained in the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.

These are designed to ensure that workers are aware of any asbestos that may be present in a building constructed before 2000 and that there is particular care taken with PPE and other precautions when dealing with the material, especially in situations where it needs to be removed from a building and safely disposed of.

Because asbestos is so dangerous, potential exposure can bring prosecutions and large penalties for those involved. It may be the same is true of exposure to silica dust in due course, but for now, the key issue is to ensure you are fully trained and legally compliant.

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