Become a sung hero by protecting workers from silica dus

Safety and health practitioners can become “sung heroes” by taking steps to protect people from breathing in silica dust at work, members of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) were told.

03 June 2016

The message came during the first in a new series of joint presentations by the institution, the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as part of IOSH’s No Time to Lose campaign to raise awareness of occupational cancer.

Members of the IOSH Midland Branch were told of the health risks related to exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS), the role of occupational hygiene in protecting workers and provided with practical advice and guidance on controlling exposure.

John Lacey, a former IOSH president, spoke about the institution’s efforts to work with professionals, businesses and other organisations to cast a spotlight on silica dust through No Time to Lose.

He said: “I’ve been involved in construction and safety and health for two-thirds of my life and silica has always been an issue, but little known as regards its effects.

“There’s been a cross-industry approach to tackling this vast issue. You (IOSH members) are very much involved in carrying IOSH’s campaign and its messages forward.

“It is a great opportunity for you to not be the unsung heroes, but ‘sung’ heroes who are working to stop people from suffering the ill-effects of breathing in silica dust.”

As well as causing breathing problems such as silicosis, research has shown that around 800 people in Britain a year die from lung cancer caused by prolonged exposure to RCS at work, with 900 new cases being diagnosed annually.

Dr Sean Mahar, of BOHS, emphasised the need for practitioners to recognise, evaluate and control the risks.

He said: “Silica is ubiquitous. Trying to see where the potential of a problem exists is an important part of our work.

“The important bit then is to be able to evaluate that and offer control solutions.”

Examples of good and bad practice around silica dust exposure were highlighted by Mark Flynn of the HSE.

He said it was important that professionals “don’t jump to the end” of the hierarchy of control by simply offering workers dust masks or other respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to wear while working with products which contain silica.

“There is a lot you can do before reaching for RPE – design out the risk, substitute products used, use engineering controls and water suppression, or on-tool and localised extraction of dust. Think about all of these things before RPE.”

He added: “Controlling dust is a difficult sell at times because it is not like a safety hazard – a broken ladder or missing guard – that is an instant thing. People might not realise that this is a health issue that is 20 to 30 years in the making.”

The presentation, entitled ‘Working together to beat occupational cancer – spotlight on silica’, was provided for IOSH Midland Branch members at a meeting in Birmingham on 2 June.

Branch Chair, Mohammed Basharat, said: “Whatever else comes from hearing the presentations, the one thing I want our members to take away is that they are not tackling this issue alone.

“There are so many people out there working in safety, health and wellbeing and we are all trying to protect workers. The fact we had three organisations come together and share their expertise with us is fantastic.” 

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