The silicosis threat

I thought the article about silicosis (NSS July issue, page 14) was quite good. However, I would take issue with the Maximum Exposure Limit of 0.3mg/m3 quoted. The Maximum Exposure Limit (MEL) has been replaced by a Work Exposure Limit (WEL) quoted in EH40. The new WEL for Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) dust has been amended to 0.1mg/m3.
As Doctor Krishnan explains in the rest of the article, silicosis is an extremely debilitating disease that always leads to premature death, so stoneworkers need to be aware, and take every precaution necessary. It is the responsibility of every employer to identify the risks associated with his business and provide suitable control measures, whilst it is also a requirement for employees to co-operate and use the controls correctly.
In fact, because the amount of exposure to RCS needed to cause onset of silicosis is so small, I would recommend that anybody who works with stone containing RCS should at least implement a health surveillance program and have air monitoring carried out, if only to establish whether there is a problem or not. If you identify a problem, then you need to control it.Unfortunately, there are many Companies, not just in the stone industry, who do not fully realise, or acknowledge the hazards associated with their business and as such, aren’t complying with relevant legislation.
I also thought that the article on Page 43 was a little ironic, especially after the Silicosis advice. The photo shows young men working stone, producing dust (evident by the piles on the floor and on the sack cloth), not using the Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) properly and, more significantly, working without any Respiratory Protective Equipment.
I hope these young men aren’t going to become the silicosis statistics of the future!
I accept that the pictured scenario, levels of RCS are probably low and that there is LEV. However, for this type of LEV to be effective it needs to be positioned approx 300mm from the working area positioned so that the stone chips and dust are projected into the hood. This requires continual re-adjustment of the hood – something that employers and employees tend either to forget or ignore.
Education and awareness needs to be increased among stone processing Companies.
Yes, there are a lot of people installing dust extraction and expecting it to be a “cure all”, which is dangerous. What they should be doing is establishing whether they have an RCS problem and the extent of it via air monitoring.
Only then can they implement suitable controls – which may be dust booths or LEV – and then continue to monitor the situation. How do you solve a problem that you don’t know the extent of? Invariably, it’s not the dust that you can see, it’s the dust that you can’t see that causes the damage to employee’s health.
In a lot of cases the only thing that focuses attention is an incident or a visit from the HSE. That’s a shame. Everyone thinks that ‘it won’t happen to me’. As silicosis is a slow killer, more needs to be done to make people aware and do the right thing. Decisions need to be made not solely on a cost reason, but also legal and moral reasons. Now that is a real challenge for the NSS to get across to people!

Jon Holmes
Health and Safety Manager Pisani Plc