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Construction Work & Cancer - Silica Dust

Silica dust is the biggest risk to construction workers after asbestos! But how are construction workers exposed to this carcinogenic dust?

Silica is a natural substance found in varying amounts in most rocks, sand and clay. It is also a major constituent of construction materials such as bricks, tiles, concrete, and mortar. When these materials are cut, drilled, grinded or polished, dust is generated and released into the air where it can be inhaled by the worker. Some of this dust is fine enough to get deep into the lungs. This respirable fraction is the dust that causes the main health effects associated with silica exposure. Its full name is Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) and is too fine to see with normal lighting.

What are the health effects from RCS exposure?

As we have already alluded to in the title, cancer is a potential outcome but more specifically its lung cancer that is of concern. There are however other serious lung diseases that can be attributed to RCS exposure.

Silicosis - This is a condition when the lungs become scarred usually from exposure to RCS over many years. The scarring causes serious breathing problems making simple daily task difficult to complete. Very high exposure to RCS can cause acute Silicosis where the disease is brought on much more quickly.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) - This condition causes serious breathlessness, prolonged coughing and chronic disability. It is a very debilitating condition that can also lead to death.

All in all, RCS is not something that you want to be exposed to as it could either kill you or severely limit your ability to carry out simple tasks such as walking from one room to another in the comfort of your own home.

Respirable Crystalline Silica has been a known health hazard for a very long time and as such as with all health hazards there is a legal requirement to ensure that exposure to it is adequately controlled in the workplace.

What is the best way to control RCS dust?

Well, as I'm sure you will have guessed, there is more than one solution to this problem depending on what tasks are being undertaken. Here are some examples of control options:

- Using different methods of working (reducing or stopping dust)

- Using less energy to cut stonework e.g. Block splitter instead of cut off tool

- Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) (removing dust before it enters breathing zone)

- On tool dust extraction (removing dust before it enters the breathing zone)

- Water suppression system (damping down of dust to limit amount in air)

- Respiratory Protection Equipment (last resort if unacceptable residual risk remains after application of other controls)

For more information on how to control the risks from RCS dust then please have a look at this useful publication from the Health & Safety Executive

As exposure to RCS can result in such serious health conditions and even death, you may be inclined so seek professional help to ensure that you are adequately protecting the health of your workforce as well as meeting the legal obligations of the business.

Here at Blue Turtle Ltd we pride ourselves on providing a professional service tailored to your specific business needs. Through accurate assessment of your workplace and work practices we can provide practical advice and guidance on the current risks to health, effectiveness of current controls and if necessary, what additional controls are needed.

We do this through visiting your place of work and taking a systematic approach to identifying the health hazards and assessing the risks associated with each of them. We may look to carry out personal air sampling to check exposure levels of your employees or examine and test LEV systems to ensure they are controlling the dust at source. Our experienced consultants will also look at your existing work practices to identify any issues and provide advice on alternative methods with lower dust exposure potential.

Our services are listed on our website pages which will give you an overview of the type of work we undertake. For more information or to discuss your Occupational Hygiene needs then please call or complete the online contact form, we are always more than happy to discuss your specific business health concerns.

Whatever your Occupational Hygiene needs are, Blue Turtle Ltd is here to help your business protect your workforce and help you meet your legal obligations.

Blue Turtle - The missing cog in your business health!

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