Workplace Illness Lawyers Call For More To Be Done To Protect Workers From Silica Dust

Irwin Mitchell Supports HSE Decision For On-The-Spot Inspections On Site


Workplace illness lawyers at Irwin Mitchell are calling for more protection for workers to be put in place to ensure that they stop developing the devastating occupational lung disease Silicosis. 

Silicosis is caused by exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust which is found in stones such as grit stone, sand stone and concrete.  Workers in the stone and mining industry are affected by silica dust and diagnosed with the condition but does affect workers in the construction industry, blasting industry and it is also used in the fracking process.
There are three main types of Silicosis that a worker may develop depending upon the amount of respirable crystalline silica dust that they are exposed to which are: Chronic simple silicosis, subacute silicosis and acute silicosis.

Due to the advances in the engineering industry, more powerful tools are being developed which when combined with substances containing silica results in workers being exposed to higher levels of respirable crystalline silica dust.  

Lawyers are also urging the HSE to do more for workers.  With the removal of the six pack regulations due to the Enterprise Act and the shocking removal of silicosis from the list of reportable diseases under RIDDOR on the 1st October 2013, there is a lot less legislation for employers to be required to comply with which results in less protection for employees. 

The HSE has also recently started a targeted inspection process where they will be visiting sites unannounced in order to ensure that employees are not being exposed to risk to their health and safety such as ensuring that exposure to silica dust is being controlled. 

Nicola Handley, a specialist industrial disease lawyer at Irwin Mitchell’s Leeds office, said: “Occupational lung diseases have a devastating effect on individuals’ lives and more regulation and enforcements of such law needs to be put in place. 

“Employers and employees are still not aware of how to protect themselves from the dangers of silica dust and developing this devastating disease.

“At least 40 new cases of silicosis were assessed by the Government for eligibility for benefits in 2011.  This number is still too high when you consider the simple precautions that can be taken to protect workers such as adequate personal protection equipment, extraction units and legislation to protect workers.

“Workers need to be more aware about the dangers of working with silica and the fact that silicosis is incurable.  It can shorten your life expectancy, your capacity to work and your quality of life dramatically.  

“I often work with people whose lives have been shortened by the disease and even though we are able to recover compensation for loss of earnings and the cost of care, when we can never turn back the clock and heal them.”

Alan Bowman, who was diagnosed with silicosis in 2006 after working for 30 years as a stone mason, said: “I was told by my employer at that time of my diagnosis that there was nothing to worry about and they installed an extraction unit in my work place.  

“I carried on working but was completely unaware of the fact that my condition was progressing and I was still being exposed to respirable crystalline silica dust because the extraction equipment was not fit for purpose.  My condition has now progressed significantly and I have been advised that I only have 12 months to live.  

“It is devastating to know that I could have been protected and I would not have to be worrying about how my wife and family will cope once I am gone. 

“I also still know that there are people in the stone industry being exposed regularly to silica dust and I want to join my former lawyer’s call that more needs to be done to protect workers.  People need to be made aware of the dangers of the disease.”

Alan was regularly exposed to high levels of respirable crystalline silica dust due to the use of power tools and working with stone such as sandstone in order to make high quality stone pieces.  Alan was a true craftsman and regrettably is now unable to work in the industry that he enjoyed and his life has also been shortened.

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.