Last month, MP’s called for greater measures to protect around 60,000 construction workers who are at risk of lung disease by breathing in dust from cut stone.
The dust from cut stone contains silica particles and when breathed in this can cause an incurable condition known as silicosis. Silicosis has been dubbed as the new asbestosis.
WHAT IS SILICOSIS?
Silicosis is an incurable and chronic lung disease caused by inhaling large amounts of crystalline silica dust. Silica is found in various types of stone, rock, sand and clay and cutting these materials can create a very fine dust that can be easily inhaled.
When the dust has been breathed in and is inside the lungs they are attacked by the immune system. This causes swelling and over time leads to areas of hardened and scarred lung tissue, affecting a person’s lung function and leading to laboured breathing.
Silicosis develops after being exposed to silica for anything between five to 20 years, although it is usually at the higher end of that scale.
If a person develops silicosis the main symptoms they will experience are a persistent cough, shortness of breath, weakness and tiredness. The severity of these symptoms depends on the severity of the condition however death from silicosis is rare in the UK, around eight to ten deaths a year.
People in the following industries are most at risk;
- stone masonry and stone cutting (eg: sandstone);
- construction and demolition of concrete and paving materials;
- pottery, ceramics and glass manufacturing;
- mining and quarrying;
- sand blasting.
The government have recommended that the current legal workplace exposure limit is halved, from 0.1mg per metre cubed to 0.05mg per metre cubed. They have estimated that around 600,000 workers from these industries are still being exposed to higher than recommended levels of silica.
A report was launched at the start of March 2020 in the House of Commons by The All Party Parliamentary Group for Respiratory Health which states that respirable crystalline silica (RCS) is the biggest risk to construction workers’ health after asbestos.
Asbestos, which also causes damage to lungs and can all too often be fatal, is now banned in the UK. Before the effects of it were know it was considered to be a wonder product in the construction industry. It was used in buildings for insulation, flooring and roofing and was often sprayed onto ceilings and walls. Even though the use of asbestos has been banned in the UK for some time, buildings constructed before the year 2000 may still have asbestos in them. It is thought that there are around six million tonnes of asbestos inside 1.5million buildings in the UK including hospitals and an estimated 8 out of 10 schools.
Asbestos claims the lives of around 5,000 workers each year. Shockingly, this is higher than the number of people killed on our roads. Exposure to silica dust is threatening to become the ‘next asbestos’ if nothing is done to reduce the levels of exposure and protect the workers still exposed to it on a daily basis.
If you have been exposed to silica dust or asbestos or have worked in an industry that used either of these materials and believe you may have health problems as a result please contact us on 0800 294 3065 so that we can advise whether you might be eligible to seek compensation.