The HSE warns that prolonged exposure to airborne particles of respirable crystalline silica (RCS) can lead to life-changing respiratory conditions such as silicosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Silica is a natural substance found in most stone, rocks, sand, quartz and clay. Silica particles are produced during many manufacturing tasks involving these materials. Silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer can all be caused by breathing in tiny particles of silica. Over time, exposure to silica particles can harm a worker’s ability to breathe and cause irreversible, often fatal, lung disease.
Starting in October 2022, HSE Inspectors will begin a targeted inspection initiative focusing on manufacturing business where materials that contain silica are used, to ensure they have control measures in place to protect workers’ respiratory health. This will include brick and tile manufacturers, foundries, stone working sites and manufacturers of kitchen worktops.
Employers have a legal duty to put in place suitable arrangements to manage health and safety and ensure they comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH). Inspectors will be looking for evidence that businesses have put in place effective measures, such as Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV), water suppression and where appropriate, use of protective equipment such as Respiratory Protective (RPE), to reduce workers exposure to the RCS. If any health and safety breaches are discovered, HSE will take enforcement action to make sure workers’ health is protected.
HSE’s Head of Manufacturing David Butter said: “It’s hugely important for manufacturing businesses where workers use materials that contain silica to act now to ensure they comply with the law and protect their workers from the risks of devastating lung disease. Businesses should take note that that good ventilation in the workplace and protective equipment are just some of the measures they need in place to protect the respiratory health of workers.
“Ahead of our autumn/winter inspection campaign, we want employers and workers to make sure they are aware of the risks associated with the activities they do. For example brick and tile manufacture, foundry workers and stoneworkers where they cut and shape bricks, tiles and stone that can create RCS dust that could be breathed in. To assist them we have refreshed our guidance. In addition, we have committed to providing duty holders with regular updates, information and advice through our ebulletin.”
Silica is a natural substance found in varying amounts in most rocks, sand and clay. For example, sandstone contains more than 70% silica, whereas granite might contain 15-30%. Silica is also a major constituent of construction materials such as bricks, tiles, concrete and mortar.
You generate dust from these materials during many common construction tasks. These include cutting, drilling, grinding and polishing. Some of this dust is fine enough to get deep into your lungs. The fine dust is known as respirable crystalline silica (RCS) and is too fine to see with normal lighting. It is commonly called silica or silica dust.
Silica is the biggest risk to construction workers after asbestos. Heavy and prolonged exposure to RCS can cause lung cancer and other serious respiratory diseases. HSE commissioned estimates it was responsible for the death of over 500 construction workers in 2005. In addition to the risks from lung cancer, silica is also linked to other serious lung diseases:
Silica dust compared to a 1p coin
The amounts needed to cause this damage are not large. The most you should be inhaling during a day after using the right controls is shown next to the penny.