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UNCONTROLLED SILICA DUST CAUSED WORKER SILICOSIS

£100k fine follows failure to manage RCS hazard

A private school has been fined £100,000 after a stonemason developed silicosis following potential exposure to more than 80 times the daily limit for crystalline silica dust.

The 55-year-old from Liverpool was employed by Stonyhurst College for some 12 years and was diagnosed with silicosis in July 2011. Preston Crown Court heard the stonemason started work in June 1999 undertaking work on the building needing extensive repairs for wind and weather-proofing.

A second mason was employed in April 2005 and a third in January 2009 to help with a major project requiring more than 400 tonnes of sandstone. The masons worked intensively with powered hand tools cutting, shaping, chiselling and finishing the sandstone.

HSE investigators found a failure to monitor or reduce the exposure of workers to silica dust, despite sandstone containing between 70% and 90% of crystalline silica. No equipment was used to remove, capture or supress the dust that was created by the use of the stonemasons’ tools.

Two stonemasons worked regularly in a workshop with no windows and no means of extracting the sandstone dust.

After the college was notified a mason had developed silicosis in July 2011 it failed to take any action to monitor exposure levels until the two remaining stonemasons were made redundant in November 2011.

The stonemason with silicosis has suffered serious and irreversible health effects as a result of his exposure. He has a reduced lung function, suffers from breathlessness and can no longer continue with his profession.

No action despite advice from H&S consultant

Stonyhurst was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £31,547.78 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 by failing to ensure the health and safety of its employees.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Mike Mullen said:

“Stonyhurst directly employed stonemasons over a 12-year period but it failed to take any action to ensure its employees weren’t exposed to high levels of silica dust.

During the construction of the sixth-form building, the work of the stonemasons intensified. We estimate that they were regularly exposed to silica dust at a level which was in excess of 80 times greater than the workplace exposure limit.

There was no attempt by the college to assess and manage its workers’ exposure despite having their attention drawn to the risks by its own health and safety consultant in 2008.

A worker who was previously very active now struggles to play outside with his grandchildren, and will suffer breathing difficulties for the rest of his life.

Silicosis is irreversible and can be a fatal disease. It leads to an increased chance of suffering from lung cancer, tuberculosis, kidney disease and arthritis, and it’s therefore vital the risk from silica dust is taken seriously.”

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