Report calls for lower WEL on respirable crystalline silica

25 March 2020

A new report exploring the risk of silica exposure to construction has called for a lower workplace exposure limit (WEL) for respirable crystalline silica (RCS) in the UK from 0.1mg/m3 to 0.05mg/m3 in line with the 2003 recommended exposure standard from the Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limits.

Not-for-profit organisation C&CE has worked with the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Respiratory Health on an inquiry into silicosis in the construction industry. They have produced a joint report, Silica — The Next Asbestos? that explores the risk of silica exposure to construction workers and the implications for policy makers.

According to the report, silicosis is the most common chronic occupational lung disease worldwide and although there’s no cure, it’s entirely preventable.

Silica is a natural substance found in concrete, bricks, tiles and mortar — materials commonly used in construction. When ‘fractured’ through processes such as stonecutting, drilling and polishing, it becomes RCS. Construction workers are at risk of developing silicosis when they inhale RCS over extended periods.

The report makes 10 detailed recommendations to government that includes:

  • introducing new health and safety regulations specifically relating to the control of RCS to bring it into line with asbestos

  • developing a targeted industry awareness programme

  • introducing a screening programme for those exposed to RCS

  • lowering the WEL for RCS in the UK from 0.1mg/m3 to 0.05mg/m3 in line with the 2003 recommended exposure standard from the Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limits, and statutory monitoring requirements are introduced to ensure workers are not exposed above that limit.

The BOHS, which has had its own silicosis awareness campaign, Breathe Freely in Construction, has welcomed the publication. John Dobbie, President of BOHS, said, “As the Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection, we greatly welcome this important report and its call for better measures to control risks posed by silica in the workplace. There is a great need for better awareness of the dangers of silicosis amongst employers — especially those in small to medium (SME) sized enterprises — and also amongst workers themselves — and again this need is most pronounced on the SME end of the construction sector. BOHS works tirelessly to raise awareness of the causes of occupational lung disease and influence national and international policy and practice and we are really pleased to see our hard work acknowledged. Collaboration will ultimately be the key to successfully tackle silicosis in the UK.”