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What is Silica Dust and How is it Killing UK Industrial Workers?

You may have heard of silica dust but have long been wondering what it actually is.

The simple answer is that it is all around us. However, people in the construction industry are at a higher risk of inhaling the dust and developing an industrial disease such as Silicosis or Bronchitis.

Silica Dust

What is Silica Dust?

It is the dust from a natural substance called silica which can be found in rocks, sand and clay.

Certain natural materials like sandstone contain over 70 percent silica whereas some like granite have a much lower concentration, at under 30 percent.

When we say it’s all around you, we aren’t joking! Silica also can be found in housing bricks, tiles, concrete and mortar.

How is Silica Dust Made?

Silica dust is produced by construction tasks like cutting, drilling, grinding and polishing with any product which contains silica. Performing these tasks produces the fine dust, which is officially called Respirable Crystalline Silica.

The silica dust is so fine that it is actually under half the size of a penny!

What Are the Risks of Silica Dust?

Heavy and prolonged exposure to silica dust can lead to the development of lung cancer and other serious respiratory diseases.

4,000 industry deaths per year in the UK are attributed to chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) such as bronchitis and emphysema as a result of past exposure to occupational hazards like silica dust in the workplace.

Silica dust is also unsurprisingly associated with silicosis, which causes breathing problems and increases the risk of lung infections.

Mortality rates for industrial diseases like silicosis have been steadily rising, with approximately 500 deaths occurring in 2005, and over 800 last year.

Unfortunately, often by the time an occupational disease such as silicosis is noticed, the total damage has already been done.

What Causes High Dust Levels?

It is fair to say that silica exposure in any form contributes directly towards preventable deaths annually.

Occupational illnesses like lung disease can – and should – be prevented.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 – or COSHH – set out to cover activities which may expose workers to harmful substances like silica dust.

In these regulations the reasons for high dust levels are outlined thoroughly.

Tasks, Work Areas and Frequency

To simplify, it is stated that the following contribute towards a high frequency of dust which can lead to the surpassing of safe exposure limits.

  • Task – the more energy used in a task such as cutting or grinding, the higher the risk of inhaling dangerous dust

Tools like cut-off saws produce a lot of dust in a small amount of time.

  • Work area – the more enclosed the work space, the more unsafe dust will build up
  • Time working – the longer the work takes, the more dust there will be
  • Frequency – if someone is doing the same work on a regular basis, the higher their chances of inhaling an amount of dust which is over the limit of safe exposure

Construction companies should be taking action to prevent a high level of unsafe substances like silica dust being exposed to their workers.

However, unfortunately not all do and there are still construction deaths happening frequently due to carelessness.

The Facts about Silica Dust

The fact is that dust from materials such as asbestos or silica are highly dangerous and can seriously harm those who inhale even a small amount.

Although there are currently no studies to date which measure the exposure limits to the average construction worker, the evidence is there in the medical problems workers have encountered after working with such harmful materials.

  • In the EU, one in five workers face an occupational cancer risk, a figure which is very high yet also very preventable
  • Furthermore, five percent of all cancers in the UK are found to be caused by work
  • Worldwide, work-related cancer such as lung cancer caused from the inhalation of silica dust claims 742,000 lives per year
  • Silica dust has been classified as carcinogenic to humans since 1996
  • Lung cancer definitely caused by silica dust exposure through work kills an average of 15 people per week in Britain

What Can I Do?

There are many things as an employer or employee you can do to prevent excessive exposure to silica dust.

If you think you have been exposed to the harmful substance already and want to take action, our solicitors welcome enquiries.

We are committed to a client-first approach and can offer a helping hand to anyone who feels like they have been impacted by industrial disease.

Don’t wait until it’s too late – get in contact with us here at AWH Solicitors on 0844 414 0667 for a free initial consultation.

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