The national Hazards Campaign is urging the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to halve the workplace exposure limit for silica dust, a move it says will save 4,000 lives a year.
The campaign’s call came in response to a new ‘Choked’ report from Hazards magazine. This presents evidence for cutting the current legal limit of 0.1 mg/m3 for respirable crystalline silica to no more than 0.05 mg/m3, a move the report says would dramatically reduce the incidence of the lung scarring occupational disease silicosis, lung cancer, autoimmune diseases and other silica-related conditions.
Hazards reviewed the international scientific literature and internal HSE documents to calculate the annual excess silica-related death toll resulting from HSE’s repeat refusal to switch to and enforce the tighter standard, instead sticking with a level it admits comes with “significant risks”.
The report reveals that HSE’s own internal reports estimate the silicosis risk for workers is six times higher at the current HSE limit of 0.1 mg/m3, calculated at 30 cases per 100 workers exposed compared to just five per 100 at the tighter 0.05 mg/m3 standard. The United States and a number of other jurisdictions already work to the safer standard.
The Hazards Campaign is asking supporters to send an online postcard to Sarah Albon, the new chief executive of the HSE. Over 600,000 workers in the UK are regularly exposed to silica at work which is created when cutting, grinding drilling or polishing, natural substances such as rocks and sand and is a major constituent in bricks, tiles and concrete and materials. At least one-in-five workers in these jobs – and in some like stonemasonry and construction, possibly half – are exposed at or above the current deadly UK limit.
Choked! The evidence for introducing a lifesaving new silica dust exposure limit, Hazards, Number 147, September 2019.
ACTION: Send an e-postcard to HSE demanding it introduce a more protective silica standard no higher than 0.05mg/m³ and with a phased move to 0.025mg/m³.