The HSE been focusing its attention on the risk of silica exposure from stone work within its recent inspections.
When working with stone one of the health risks is a fine dust known as respirable crystalline silica (RCS). RCS is drawn deep into the lung where it can cause lung diseases including silicosis (inflammation and scarring of the lungs), cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Silica is one of the HSE’s top priorities as it’s produced not only during stone work but also through activities such as cutting blocks, bricks and tiles.
It’s been on construction site visit agendas for some time but it seems that inspectors are now extending their reach to the stone industry, including those who manufacture work surfaces, plus stone and monumental masons. During an initiative conducted in the autumn of 2015, inspectors visited 60 such businesses in the south of England. They examined whether firms had effective silica dust controls amongst other areas of health and safety management.
Unfortunately, the inspection campaign revealed some poor standards. Serious breaches were found at more than half of the premises inspected (35 out of the 60). This led the HSE to issue four prohibition notices (which stop work immediately) and 54 improvement notices.
As a result of the inspection initiative the HSE has identified four common areas which the industry must focus on: silica dust; the handling and storage of stone; machinery guarding; and the maintenance of air compressors.