HSE Urged To Protect Workers From Dangers Of Silica Dust

Tighter Workplace Regulations Could Safeguard Workers Against Silica Dust


Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been urged to tighten the current workplace regulations in place to safeguard employees from the harmful effects of silica dust.

According to a study conducted by Professors Rory O’Neill and Andrew Watterson at the University of Stirling, hundreds of thousands of workers are put at risk due to exposure to the harmful dust particles and up to 1,000 could die every year due to the diseases they may suffer as a result. Silica dust is created during work with stone, rock, plaster and concrete.

If inhaled, it can cause a range of illnesses including silicosis, tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, arthritis and kidney disease. The university’s Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety Research Group (OEHSRG) claims that crystalline silica is second only to asbestos as a cause of occupational cancer deaths.

Concerns have also been raised about the creation of silica dust during the fracking process, which is set to become a major industry in the UK as the government has approved plans to expand fracking and exploration in an attempt to access shale gas held in rocks beneath the surface.

Silica sand is the main ‘proppant’ used to fracture rocks underground and can cause lung cancer, silicosis and other fatal diseases among workers exposed to the substance. Other risks associated with fracking include the use of volatile hydrocarbons, which, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, can affect the lungs, eyes, nervous system and heart.

Current regulations allow a crystalline silica workplace exposure limit of 0.1 milligrams per cubic metre, however the OEHSRG has called on the HSE to tighten standards and halve the exposure limit allowed. The regulator has been reluctant to introduce the more stringent limit, as it says the technology to accurately measure dust levels is not available.

Professor O'Neill said: “If HSE's science can't obtain and analyse adequately one of the most commonly encountered and deadly workplace dust exposures here on Earth, who on Earth are they protecting?"

In the US, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the equivalent of the HSE is attempting to tighten regulations around silica exposure limits. It is hoping to halve the exposure standard and claimed that monitoring a tighter exposure standard is technically feasible and would help to save thousands of lives.

If you or a loved one has suffered from respiratory problems - such as occupational asthma or silicosis - caused by conditions at work, our solicitors could help you claim compensation. See our Industrial Disease Claims page for more information.