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NEW GUIDANCE ON SITE SILICA DUST DANGER

Leaflet explains how to prevent lung disease caused by exposure to silica

HSE has published a new short leaflet providing advice for employers and employees on respirable crystalline silica (RCS), how RCS can damage health and what to do to prevent harm.

Silica is a natural substance found in most rocks, sand and clay and in products such as bricks and concrete. In the workplace these materials create dust when they are cut, sanded, carved etc. Some of this dust may be fine enough to breathe deeply into the lungs and cause harm to health.

How can RCS harm your health?

Breathing in RCS can lead to development of the following lung diseases:

  • Silicosis: makes breathing more difficult and increases the risk of lung infections. Silicosis usually follows exposure to RCS over many years, but extremely high exposures can lead rapidly to ill health;
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): is a group of lung diseases, including bronchitis and emphysema, resulting in severe breathlessness, prolonged coughing and chronic disability. It may be caused by breathing in any fine dusts, including RCS. It can be very disabling and is a leading cause of death. Cigarette smoking can make it worse; and
  • Lung cancer: heavy and prolonged exposure to RCS can cause lung cancer. When someone already has silicosis, there is an increased risk of lung cancer.
What can be done to reduce the risk?

The health risks from RCS are insignificant when exposure to dust is adequately controlled. The principal controls measures identified in the leaflet are:

  • assess the risks and keep a written record of the assessment;
  • tell the workforce anything significant about the risk assessment;
  • consider where practicable substituting material with a lower RCS content;
  • prevent or control exposures to RCS by following good occupational hygiene practice; 
  • where necessary, provide personal protective equipment;
  • maintain all equipment used as control measures in good working order;
  • instruct and train staff  to use equipment properly and inform about health risks;
  • monitor to ensure that controls are effective; and
  • where appropriate arrange health surveillance.

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