UK union launches silica exposure register to protect workers

UK construction union Unite has launched an online register to allow workers who have been exposed to dangerous silica dust to record their exposure. The union says this will assist with potential future legal cases if they experience long term health problems, including cancer.

Unite says industries where workers are potentially exposed to respirable crystalline silica include mining, quarrying, foundries, potteries, ceramics, glass manufacturing, stonemasonry, construction and industries using silica flour. Inhaling large amounts of silica dust over a long period can cause silicosis, a frequently fatal lung-scarring disease.

It can also lead to other potentially fatal illnesses including lung and other cancers, silicotuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and kidney and autoimmune diseases.

Unite national health and safety adviser Bud Hudspith said: “Unfortunately many employers remain willing to play fast and loose with the health of their workers. Unite’s primary aim is to ensure employers prevent silicosis and lung cancer through the removal or strict control of silica dust.”

The silica exposure register was developed in Unite’s south east region, where members of the union employed at cable producer Prysmian Cables in Hampshire raised concerns about the long-term welfare of workers. Michael Hobbs, Unite’s senior steward at Prysmian Cables, said: “The silica register is long overdue; the threat of exposure is a millstone round the necks of workers in many different sectors. Educating and warning workers about the dangers of airborne dust will undoubtedly save lives, so credit should be given to everyone behind launching this much needed campaign.”

Unions in the UK have been highly critical of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for defending the existing UK occupational exposure standard of 0.1mg/m3, five times the level proposed by authorities in the Australian state of Victoria and twice the current US limit.

Unite has produced a short film to explain how the register operates and the dangers of inhaling silica dust.

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