Many workers in the construction workforce are at continuous risk of a respiratory illness causes by exposure to a harmful dust known as silica.
Exposure to silica dust can lead to a condition called silicosis, which if gone untreated, could lead to fatigue, loss of appetite, pains in the chest and in some severe cases, death. In this article, dust control experts, Dustcheck, discuss the signs of silicosis and how you can protect your workforce against the threat.
What is silica dust?
Silica dust is made up of a number of components including sand, granite, soil and other minerals, which if breathed in can cause fatal respiratory problems. The most common form of crystalline silica is quartz and the two other forms are known as Cristobalite and Tridymite. All three of these may be broken into particles small enough to be breathed in during the process of workers operating machinery for bag filling, vibratory feeders, milling and unloading, to name but a few.
How can silica dust be harmful?
Exposure to silica dust poses a high-risk threat to a large number of workers in the UK and high-risk industries associated with this exposure including construction material manufacturing e.g. bricks, cement and concrete, quarrying and mining. Crystalline silica has been classified as a human carcinogen and the breathing in of this can cause a condition called silicosis, which in some cases can be fatal.
What is silicosis?
Silicosis is a progressive disease affecting the lungs, which is caused by the inhalation of large amounts of silica dust over a prolonged period of time.
Once present in the lungs, the respirable crystalline silica (RCS) particles attack the immune system and cause inflammation, with the main symptoms being a persistent cough, shortness of breath, weakness and tiredness.
How you can protect your workforce against silica dust?
In order to protect against silica exposure for your workforce, there are a few steps that you can take. These include:
• Using a silica substitute
• Putting in place engineering controls
• Improving work practices so that exposure is reduced where possible
• Ensuring that your team use the relevant personal protective equipment
• Washing hands and face before eating or drinking
In addition to the above precaution measures, all workers breathing crystalline silica dust should have a medical examination, so that any issues can be detected as early as possible.
As an employer, it is worth seeking professional legal advice if you are unsure about how to further protect your workforce from the harmful effects of silica dust. The Health and Safety Executive also provides further information on this condition and relevant safety initiatives.
The above graph shows the number of deaths and cases of silicosis between 2005 and 2015.