Silicosis is now the most common occupational lung disease in the world, with silica dust described as ‘the new asbestos’ due to the extreme threat it poses to human health.
Silica dust (respirable crystalline silica (RCS)) is extremely harmful to human health due to its physical and biological properties.
It affects around 50,000,000 workers in a wide variety of industries all around the world and prolonged exposure leads to silicosis and a wide range of other diseases, most of which are untreatable and often lead to long-term disability and/or death.
The potential for harm is even worse than that when you consider that asbestos is one of many different silica compounds and silica is the most proliferate mineral on earth; present in bricks, sand, stone, concrete, glass, cement and many other construction and building materials. 99% of deaths in occupational settings, are caused by the inhalation of dangerous particulates, with the other significant factor in this statistic being the extreme difficulty in monitoring in real-time for these killer particulates
It has never been possible to reliably detect and distinguish silica dust in real time in the real-world settings in which workers are exposed to it – until now.
The white paper looks at the background of silica exposure, the current methodologies employed to monitor it and the new technological advancement that has led to the development of a field-ready product for the first time in history.
Legislated limits of exposure have been tightening up in most major economies as the harm being caused becomes known, but reductions in limits and the implementation of these limits have been hampered by the lack of real-time accurate and reliable monitoring capability.
This technology has the potential to change the way industry, governments, businesses and workers themselves respond to the threat of RCS exposure in the workplace, and as such, it can be the beginning of the end for occupational silicosis. Not only does it improve health and safety outcomes for frontline workers, but it also reduces costs for businesses whilst giving them back control over their working environment.
Perhaps most importantly of all, it gives legislative bodies the tool they need to create and implement workplace exposure limits (WELs) that genuinely protect workers from harm, at a cost industry can bear, ending decades of debate over what the limits should be and how practicable it is for industry to meet them.
In 2020, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Respiratory Health (APPG) issued the report “Silica, the next asbestos?”, which examined the disproportionate effect of silica dust to construction workers’ lives.
Since the publication of that report, the APPG were contacted by a number of experts on the subject matter, who highlighted the advances in risk reduction and the particularly promising rise of real-time dust and silica monitoring technology.
“Trolex believe that the most obvious and immediate benefit of real-time monitoring is in improving safety for those potentially exposed to silica in the workplace.”
The new, revised report, titled “Improving Silicosis Outcomes in the UK” also explored these new silicosis prevention strategies, including some input from Trolex on the subject matter. From this, the APPG raised several clinical and regulatory recommendations to protect workers from the dangers of occupational silicosis going forward.
“We recommend that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) assesses and determines the data and technology needed to allow the UK to reduce the WEL for work with silica to 0.05mg/m3.”
The recommendations from the APPG’s report indicate a number of changes need to be made in order to improve safety across all UK industries which use silica. These recommendations focus on both ways to prevent exposure to dangerous Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) in the workplace, including improvements in education, real-time monitoring and reducing exposure limits, as well as improving health and support for those who currently suffer with silicosis.
“We recommend that the HSE actively considers and consults with industry on the positions of real-time monitoring to complement the hierarchy of control.”
Protecting the health and safety of the people who work for you is the ethical thing to do. It also makes good business sense as your people are your greatest asset.
But even if you aren’t driven by a moral or financial imperative, governments around the world are toughening up on the legislation that protects workers, so it’s not something any business can afford to ignore.
While some threats are obvious, others are invisible and incredibly hard to accurately detect, such as the deadly silica dust that are the by-product of many industries and manufacturing processes.
Silica dust is linked with severe health problems. It has been dubbed the ‘new asbestos’ and has already been the subject of litigation. Yet it’s something that has historically been impossible to monitor in real time.
Our Construction Industry Health and Safety Survey Winter 2021 shows that employers are concerned about safety, with nine out of 10 respondents recognising that worker safety is important or very important.
But it also revealed that on the ground it can be hard to meet the health and safety challenge, particularly when it comes to dust monitoring, which for a fifth of respondents accounted for half of their safety budget.
This in-depth report looks at how real-time, wearable dust monitoring technology can help to solve the issues from the findings of the Construction Industry Health and Safety Survey Winter 2021.
The findings ultimately mean that it’s clear we need a new approach to dust monitoring. One that looks to the future and is inspired by the intelligent tech revolutionising every other aspect of our lives.
It’s time to act now to tackle danger of hazardous dusts, like silica dust, by investing in smarter solutions to protect the air we breathe, with real-time dust monitoring.
When it comes to occupational health and safety, new real-time dust monitoring such as the XD One Personal Dust Monitor can help to make decisions for the hierarchy of controls.
In this e-book we explain how the arrival of affordable, real-time monitoring and wearable dust monitoring technologies promote this new awareness of the dangers of dust in a far broader range of working environments.
Employers and the health and safety community are now shifting their attention. Where they’ve traditionally focused on safety, they now look at the major impacts on long-term health associated with working in hazardous environments.
There’s also an increasing awareness of the range of industries that can present long-term health hazards through the inhalation of dangerous dust particles, from traditional industrial environments to commercial activities.
The HSE are reporting an estimated 1.4 million people in the UK report ‘lung or breathing problems that were caused or made worse by work’ – and whilst it’s great that people are starting to pay more attention to this issue, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
Whilst financial costs of lung diseases effect both businesses and individuals, respiratory diseases are more than just an economic drain. It’s a personal tragedy, and there are a whole raft of occupations and jobs where people are exposed to dangerous dust across the world.
However, through the hierarchy of controls, businesses can determine the most effective solutions in order to keep workers protected from dangerous dust exposure.
Knowing that dangerous dust exists, knowing its effects are potentially lethal, and knowing that the damage it causes is preventable, only takes you so far. Knowing how to prevent that harm is what matters, and this is how the hierarchy of controls can help businesses become more efficient, by understanding how effective each method is in benefitting the workforce.
Fortunately, new accurate, real-time, wearable dust monitoring sensors are leading the detection charge across every use case. By precisely reading the real-time dust load in any given environment, and the enemy now ‘visible’, businesses can begin to apply the hierarchy of controls in a far more meaningful way.
An independent UK agency responsible for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare, and for research into occupational risks in Great Britain, carried out a series of tests on three XD One Personal Dust Monitor units.
They compared them to the following dust monitors: Casella CEL-712 Microdust Pro, a Thermo Scientific MIE Personal DataRam (pDR) 1500, a TSI SidePak AM510.
The key elements of the testing were as follows:
The results from the independent testing demonstrated that the XD One Personal Dust Monitor performs better than other personal dust monitors on the market. There were five critical messages from the testing as outlined below:
According to the Health and Safety Executive, around 12,000 people in the UK die from dust inhalation related to exposure in the workplace every year and hazardous industries need to improve the working environment.
Although regulation is tightening to improve working conditions, it is the fear of legal claims and corporate social responsibility that is focusing attention for managers, board members and shareholders.
Safety regulation across the globe has become ever more stringent as authorities have recognised the dangers associated with working in hazardous dusty environments, such as respirable crystalline silica (RCS). From mining to tunnelling and further afield, hundreds of thousands of individuals are working every day in high dust environments, and therefore at risk of contracting occupational lung diseases from inhaling hazardous dusts, most notably silica dust.
While regulations become ever tighter, balancing employee wellbeing with performance, productivity and a good working environment is far from straightforward.
Without accurate, immediate and continuous access to critical information about the current levels of dust in the environment, organisations simply cannot make health and safety decisions in real time.
The lack of immediate information regarding air quality is affecting every aspect of the hazardous environment:
To further add to concerns, the traditional process for analysing air quality has its own flaws; it’s slow and expensive, to name just a few:
However, there is a solution to the issue of respirable dust in the workplace. Real-time dust monitoring.
The latest dust monitoring technology operates in real time, providing continuous analysis of dust levels, which is fed directly into an operational system. In addition to being considerably less expensive and time consuming than sending samples to the laboratory for analysis, the real-time insight transforms day to day operations.
Real-time dust monitoring provides managers and senior members of staff with information as soon as possible on changing dust levels, which can transform the quality of the working environment and improve both health & safety and businesses corporate social responsibility.
Organisations are continually focused on improving efficiency and making effective use of financial resources. However, with extensive regulation and budgetary demands in place for most, are these costs all justified?
In this e-book, we consider the new thinking enabled by total cost of ownership focus. From the investment in individual products, such as personal gas detection systems, to supporting a multi-environment management model.
When reviewing specific aspects of the safety equipment portfolio, focus is not only on ensuring any new regulations are met but also to maximise exposure to technology innovation and, of course, take advantage of any opportunities to drive down costs.
Radically reducing the cost of consumables will release significant budget that safety managers could then use to explore new and innovative safeguarding solutions. The ability to confidently consider improvements in areas such as ventilation and personal monitoring enable organisations to go beyond basic compliance to current legislative requirements and proactively future proof the business.
The ability to combine real-time information about an individual’s health – from air quality to heart rate – will become increasingly key in safeguarding individuals, enabling safety managers to take immediate action in the event of an incident and provide organisations with accurate data to mitigate the risk of legal action in the future.
Personal gas detection has been required for many years; but as regulators extend this model to include exposure to silica dust, for example, the ability to combine real-time hazard monitoring with personal biometrics will provide individual employee health profiles.
Considering the total cost of ownership, rather than up front price alone, will offer value even if organisations are operating in environments with just one or two gases; for those companies in highly complex environments, where workers are at risk of exposure to up to five or six different gases – requiring four high-cost gas detection cells the total cost of ownership benefits delivered by a low-cost consumable model is very significant.
When it comes to worker wellbeing, the historical focus has been around making workplaces safer – avoiding injury due to falling equipment, reducing injuries, and so on. However, we are now seeing a shift from general safety to concentrating more on employee health, especially the potential impacts on long-term health associated with working in hazardous environments.
This is due, in part, increased awareness regarding the long-term health hazards associated with dust inhalation, with a CIPD survey finding that 47% of employers now think that employee wellbeing is directly linked to business performance.
The Health and Safety Executive’s 2016/17 review indicated a changing emphasis towards health by demonstrating their priorities for the following 12 months, identified as establishing:
A three-year health and work programme to reduce levels of a number of long-term health issues, including:
Reducing longer term health risks, including 880 inspections in the construction industry to tackle exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS).
A study compiled by the University of Birmingham and Health Exchange highlighted that improving employee health factors – which obviously have better long-term health implications – can also actually decrease the chances of workplace injuries due to increased employee awareness and performance.
It has become increasingly clear that many working environments create hazards that have a long-term impact on employees, an impact that is not always immediately visible. While physical injury remains a serious risk in the mining and industrial workplace, respirable dust exposure is one of the greatest hazards experienced by miners and workers in a wide range of industries, even today, and can cause serious long-term health implications.
Whilst in the past, real-time dust monitoring was both expensive and short lived, the latest generation of dust monitoring technology is both low cost and low maintenance, meaning that dust monitoring is becoming a primary technology to support organisations in their bid to deliver long term employee health alongside safety.
With growing concerns around dust-related illnesses, real-time dust monitoring is essential to relieving these health concerns. While the latest generation of real-time dust monitoring technology provides the information to enable organisations to be far more sophisticated about balancing employee comfort with safety, it is just the start.