Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors are cracking down on the use of silica materials in the construction industry
HSE has launched an inspection operation focusing on manufacturing businesses that use materials containing silica.
HSE will take enforcement action if it discovers health and safety breaches during the inspections. Companies affected include brick and tile manufacturers and foundries.
HSE inspectors will check that employers and workers know the risks involved when dealing with respirable crystalline silica (RCS) and that businesses have control measures in place to protect workers’ respiratory health.
Employers have a legal duty to create suitable arrangements to manage health and safety and ensure they comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH).
Examples of control measures that inspectors will be looking for include local exhaust ventilation and, where appropriate, use of water suppression and personal protective equipment such as respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to reduce workers’ exposure to RCS.
What are the risks of working with RCS?
Exposure to airborne particles of RCS can lead to life-changing respiratory conditions such as silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.
Silica is a natural substance present in most stones, rocks, sand and clay. Its particles result from many manufacturing tasks involving these materials.
Over time, exposure to silica particles can harm a worker’s ability to breathe and cause irreversible, often fatal, lung diseases.
HSE’s head of manufacturing David Butter said: “It’s important that manufacturing businesses act now to ensure they comply with the law and protect their workers from serious lung diseases. Businesses should take note that good ventilation in the workplace and personal protective equipment are just some of the measures they need in place to protect the respiratory health of workers.
“During the 2022 silica initiative, inspection findings indicated poor management of control measures including engineering controls, cleaning and housekeeping and RPE management. Employers should ensure control measures are used and maintained appropriately."
The silica inspections initiative is part of the Dust Kills campaign which aims to prevent lung disease resulting from dust while working in construction.