HSE accused of inadequate safeguards against silica dust
The HSE has been accused of putting workers at risk of contracting lung cancer and other respiratory diseases because of inadequate safeguards against crystalline silica.
Academics at Stirling University in Scotland have criticised the watchdog over its recommended safe level of exposure to the toxic workplace dust, a powder created when working with bricks, concrete and plaster.
Silica is second only to asbestos as a cause of occupational cancer deaths and exposure can cause a range of other illnesses including silicosis, tuberculosis, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and arthritis.
HSE has said that technological limitations mean it is impractical to monitor for its presence below the exposure standard, while some industry bodies have argued that the cost of implementing these new controls would be prohibitive.
Professor Rory O’Neill, Stirling University’s occupational and environmental health and safety research group and author of a new report on the substance, said: “The HSE says monitoring technology isn’t good enough yet to measure low levels of silica dust, so we must stick with the same deadly, higher but measurable standard. It is wrong on both counts.
“Modern science can obtain and analyse dust on Mars. If HSE’s science can’t obtain and analyse adequately one of the most commonly encountered and deadly workplace dust exposure on Earth, you have to ask who on Earth is the watchdog protecting?”
Professor O’Neill called on HSE to follow the lead of the American Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and implement a rule change that would cut the recommended safety level in half.
Research professor Andrew Watterson, said: “OSHA says a tighter standard is perfectly possible, can be monitored in the workplace and would save hundreds of lives and billions each year.
“The current lax legal occupational exposure standard in the UK guarantees another generation will be blighted by entirely preventable, deadly and disabling conditions. Yet the HSE is actively promoting an industry-supported but unsustainable argument that the current standard must stay.”
A spokesperson for the HSE said: “Health and safety law requires employers to assess the risk of exposure to silica dust in their workplace and prevent it, when prevention is not possible, exposure must be controlled.
“There is a UK workplace exposure limit for silica of 0.1 mg m-3, and employers must reduce exposure to below this level. With the required exposure controls in place, silica dust is usually reduced to significantly below 0.1 mg m-3.
“The advice HSE has received indicates that it is not practical or achievable to consistently and reliably measure real workplace samples of respirable crystalline silica to significantly lower levels.
“This is because the technical samplers currently used suffer from interference and poor precision at these low measurement masses. Measurements below the current WEL would require complex sampling and analysis processes which have not been validated.”
Sleep and Fatigue: Director’s Briefing
Fatigue is common amongst the population, but particularly among those working abnormal hours, and can arise from excessive working time or poorly designed shift patterns. It is also related to workload, in that workers are more easily fatigued if their work is machine-paced, complex or monotonous.
This free director’s briefing contains:
- Key points;
- Recommendations for employers;
- Case law;
- Legal duties.