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HSE ON SILICA DUST (RCS): RISK MANAGEMENT UPDATE

New guidance available on key HSE Construction Sector priority

The inhalation of Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) dust is a widespread hazard and significant cause of ill-health in the construction sector. The effective elimination or control of RCS dust is one of three top priorities for HSE now, and in the coming years.

RCS is very fine dust which when inhaled deep into the lungs can cause serious lung diseases including: lung cancer; silicosis; and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These diseases cause permanent disability and early death.

The greater the level of dust in air, the higher the risk. High dust levels are caused by one or more of the following:

  • Task – high energy tools, such as cut-off saws, grinders, wall chasers and grit blasters can produce a lot of dust in a very short time. Dry sweeping can make a lot of dust when compared to vacuuming or wet brushing;
  • Location – the more enclosed a space, the more the dust will build up. However, do not assume that levels will be low when working outside with high energy tools;
  • Time – the longer the time dust is created the more dust there will be; and
  • Frequency – regularly doing the same work day-after-day increases the risks.

The risk is often from exposure over many years and workers may not notice symptoms for a long time. Each exposure to RCS adds up with lungs and airways becoming  progressively more and more damaged. The diseases can be made worse by smoking.

HSE Updated RCS Guidance

The HSE COSHH Essentials series of guidance sets out advice on what to do to eliminate or control exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace. There are two types of sheets: industry-specific ‘direct advice sheets’ and ‘generic control guidance sheets’.

The construction sector guides on silica were issued in late 2016 and include the following:

  • CN0: Advice for managers
  • CN1: Concrete scabbling
  • CN2: Chasing with handheld power tools
  • CN3: Drilling and coring with hand-held rotary power tools
  • CN4: Crushing and screening demolition material
  • CN5: Clearing and removing rubble
  • CN6: Cutting paving and kerbstones with rotary cutters
  • CN7: Abrasive blasting
  • CN8: Diamond coring/hole cutting
  • CN9: Breaking in enclosed spaces

This information is designed to help duty holders comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH), as amended, to prevent or control exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) and protect the health of the workforce.

Designers must act on silica dust

The requirements of COSHH are not the only drivers for action of silica dust.

The CDM Regulations 2015 require that individuals or organisations involved in ‘design’ (which includes those specifying materials) must eliminate the RCS risk to construction workers, maintenance workers are others e.g. use lightweight / RCS free kerbs.

Where it is not possible to eliminate RCS e.g. by use of silica free products, designers must take steps to reduce (and if not possible) control the risk through the subsequent design process.

The project Principal Designer must ensure that designers comply with this duty to eliminate, reduce and control the RCS risk.

The above HSE guidance should be of great interest to Principal Designers and designers as HSE take proactive interventions with designers and follow up on the action taken by designers when investigating failures in silica risk management during the project construction phase.

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