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Lack of dust control led to silicosis

An employee at a stone masonry developed silicosis after his employer failed to protect him from the effects of silica dust in the workplace. How could the employer have controlled exposure to this harmful dust?

Work at the premises of GO Stonemasonry Ltd (GOS) created respirable crystalline silica (RCS) dust. Following exposure to RCS at work, one of its employees developed silicosis, a type of irreversible pulmonary fibrosis.

Silica is a natural material found in stone, sand, brick, tiles and concrete. RCS is released when the material is cut, sanded, abraded or carved, creating fine particles of dust that get deep into the lungs and stay there. Its impact on workers’ health is well known in the construction and related industries. As well as silicosis, exposure to RCS can cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, such as bronchitis and emphysema, and lung cancer.

Appropriate control measures include damping down materials, enclosing processes where possible, and providing dust extraction systems and suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE). Health surveillance is also required due to the serious health risks of exposure.

The HSE’s investigation found that GOS had been cutting and working with stone for several years without any suitable and sufficient dust extraction. The company failed to ensure that RPE was adequately controlling workers’ exposure to RCS. In addition to having no appropriate work processes, systems or control measures in place, the company had no health surveillance to identify the early signs of effects on workers’ health.

GOS pleaded guilty to breaching its duty under s.2(1) Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of its employees. It was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,000.

Despite the well-known risks in the industry of exposure to silica dust, this employer did not have appropriate measures in place to control the risks of its workers developing serious health problems. Measures such as damping down materials, dust extraction systems and RPE should have been used, and health surveillance should have been carried out regularly to spot any early signs of illness.

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