A new study conducted at the University of Stirling suggests that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is not doing enough to protect workers against harmful silica dust.
The study showed that silica dust, which can be created from use of stone, concrete, rock, plaster, brick, mortar and industrial sand is extremely harmful, with 1,000 workers being at risk of death from the dust every year.
Occupational cancer death is the main concern according to the University of Stirling’s Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety Research Group (OEHSRG), with this type of dust being the second major cause of cancer after asbestos. However, many other illnesses are associated with exposure and inhalation to crystalline silica, including silicosis, kidney disease, tuberculosis, arthritis and chronic pulmonary disease.
Currently, under UK health and safety law, workers can legally be exposed to a limit of 0.1 milligrams per cubic metre, but following the results of the study, the OEHSRG is calling for the HSE to impose a stricter limit.
Despite this, the HSE have claimed that tighter limits are not practical or enforceable. A spokeswoman for the HSE said that the existing HSE guidelines and controls already reduced the levels to significantly below the exposure limit first put in place.
The HSE representative said: “The advice HSE has received indicates that it is not practical or achievable to consistently and reliably measure real workplace samples of respirable crystalline silica to significantly lower levels.
She added: “This is because the technical samples currently used suffer from interference and poor precision at these low measurements masses. Measurement below the current workplace exposure limit would require complex sampling and analysis processes which have not been validated.”
Contrary to the HSE’s apparent beliefs, some provinces in Canada are already successfully monitoring and enforcing a tiger standard, according to Professor Watterson of the OEHSRG who believes it is entirely possible for the HSE to make these changes.
Furthermore, the American regulator OSHA (equivalent to the HSE in the UK) also believes it is possible to regulate a lower limit and is fighting to cut the US limit - which currently stands the same as the UK’s - after research it has independently been conducting since 1968. OSHA believes that along with saving thousands of lives, economic savings will also be delivered as a result of cutting the current limit by half.
Professor Rory O’Neill of the OEHSRG said: “The HSE says monitoring technology isn’t good enough yet to measure low levels of silica dust, so we must stick with the same deadly, higher but measurable standard. It is wrong on both counts”.
Silicosis & Black Lung Solicitors Across Scotland
If you believe you might have developed silicosis or black lung from inhaling silica dust at work, you may be entitled to compensation from your employer. To find out more, please contact our expert team of personal injury lawyers based throughout Scotland by calling 0131 516 8258. Alternatively you can complete our online enquiry form.