Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union, is strongly backing a new campaign by Hazards magazine to force the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to halve the legally permissible exposure level to silica dust, which could save 4,000 lives a year.
The campaign which is titled ‘Choked’ argues that the current legal limit of 0.1 mg/m3 should be at least halved to 0.05 mg/m3 .
The campaign will take the form of asking supporters to send an online postcard to Sarah Albon the new chief executive of the HSE.
The current UK limit of 0.1mg/m3 is double the legal limit in the United States and Australia. Many European countries also have a lower exposure level.
Over 600,000 workers in the UK are regularly exposed to silica at work which is created when cutting, grinding, drilling or polishing, natural substances such as rocks and sand and is a major constituent in bricks, tiles and concrete and materials.
“It is time that the HSE re-examined the exposure limits to silica,” Unite national health and safety adviser Rob Miguel said.
“The lives of thousands of workers can be saved if exposure levels are cut and the HSE properly enforces exposure levels.
“The government’s slashing of the HSE funding over the last decade is making it extremely difficult for the HSE to properly police the health and safety of workers. The government’s actions are costing lives.”
He added, “It is vital that everyone supports Hazards campaign and puts pressure on the HSE to do the right thing and cut the maximum legal exposure level.”
Industries where workers are potentially exposed to silica dust include: mining, quarrying, foundries, potteries, ceramics, glass manufacturing and construction. In some of these sectors like stonemasonry and construction, possibly half of workers are exposed at or above the current deadly limit.
Inhaling silica over a long period can cause silicosis a serious respiratory disease, it can also lead to other potentially fatal diseases such as lung cancer, tuberculosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Last month Unite launched an online silica register. The register is for members who have been exposed to silica. By recording the exposure, if a member then develops an industrial disease related to silica it will be easier to make a claim for compensation.