A recent campaign from the BOHS has highlighted the worrying fact that in 2015, approximately 500 construction workers will die from health complications caused by the inhalation of silica dust. Whilst that number is dwarfed in comparison to the deaths that will be caused by asbestos exposure, and even more so by those caused by other occupational cancers, silica-related illnesses and fatalities still remain a sizeable issue in the workplace.
A natural substance found in clay, rocks and sand, silica is also a component of bricks, concrete and some plastics – all common materials used by the millions of workers in the construction industry. The dust created by these products when handled is easily inhaled, and with it, harmful respirable crystalline silica (RCS). The severity of the resulting illnesses, of which silicosis forms a major part, depends on the extent of the exposure to RCS.
Silicosis is nevertheless irreversible; the disabling physical effects include chronic breathing difficulties and an increased risk of the development of lung diseases such as emphysema and lung fibrosis. The major issue with illnesses like silicosis, however, is what is commonly known as the “latency period”: it takes many years for the complications of the inhalation of RCS to come to the fore, by which time treatment may be futile.
Accordingly, the Breathe Freely initiative launched by the BOHS focuses primarily on the proactive protection of the health and wellbeing of employees in a potentially hazardous workplace, but also emphasises the wider economic impact of ignorance when it comes to noxious substances like silica. With an estimated 1,700,000 working days lost in 2013/2014 as a result of long-term latency issues, negligence and a lack of protective forethought places a massive strain on the construction industry.
Inspired by the BOHS’ initiative, Air Tech ECS are currently making an effort to raise awareness and interest in the matter within the industry sectors discussed above. Air Tech ECS’ services are key in combatting workplace related illnesses; our personal exposure monitoring along with exposure control and reduction measures will contribute to the long-term health and wellbeing of your employees first and foremost, along with the economic stability of your business.