Global efforts to combat silica dust exposure in the workplace

It’s estimated that over 40 million people worldwide are exposed to silica dust in the workplace. Respirable crystalline silica (RCS) contributes to one of the leading causes of death in the workplace, alongside other lung related illnesses. Due to this some of the industry’s most influential countries worldwide are making significant changes to regulations regarding silica exposure in the workplace. 

In December 2023, Australia became the first country in the world to ban engineered stone due to rising cases of silicosis. From 1st July 2024, all use of engineered stone in Australia will be prohibited to protect workers from exposure to RCS in the workplace. Engineered stone is a manufactured material made from combining quartz or granite aggregates with resins and pigment and is a common material used in stone bench tops, often found in kitchens and bathrooms. It’s production often results in airborne RCS, leading to significant health risks to those working with it. 

With reports that over half a million Australians are exposed to fine silica dust through stonemasonry and construction, figures suggest 103,000 of these workers are likely to be diagnosed with silicosis. The production and manufacturing of stone bench tops is a significant contributor to these statistics. The ban on engineered stone across the entirety of Australia is a step in the right direction to reduce the number of workers exposed to RCS and silicosis diagnosis in the future. 

This ruling in Australia looks to have a set a precedent in influencing other countries to do the same. In May 2024, the first cases of silicosis linked to artificial stone countertops in the UK were reported, leading to calls for the material to be banned.

An estimated 600,000 workers are exposed to silica in the UK each year, and in Europe as a whole, 81% of those exposed are employed in construction or in manufacturing products used in the industry. After Australia became the first country worldwide to ban engineered stone in December 2023, UK kitchen company Herringbone announced they would also ban the sale of high-silica quartz worktop due to the risks posed to stonemasons. 

Since speaking with their stonemasons about the risk of high quartz in engineered stone, Herringbone made the decision to become the first company in the UK to phase out the sale and production of engineered stone, as well as creating a petition to have the product completely banned in the UK, like in Australia. 

 

In the US, the Biden administration has agreed to limit workers exposure to silica dust in mining, particularly when drilling for coal, ore and completing other mining operations. In April 2024, a ruling was announced to reduce the allowable silica dust levels in mining operations to 50 micrograms per cubic meter, with an action level at 25 micrograms, for an eight-hour workday. 

The ruling will also update any respiratory protection standards for mining workers and in addition to silica dust, will also apply to diesel particulate matter and asbestos. The hope is that this will begin to reduce an estimated 1,067 deaths and 3,746 silica related illnesses in mining industries in the US and begin to make mining safer from the risk of RCS for the 55,000 American coal miners across the nation. The rule will come into action one year after its publication in April 2024. 

With significant action being taken across major industries worldwide as of mid-2024 and onwards, protection for workers against respirable crystalline silica is becoming more of a high priority in workplaces. With banning of products known to produce dangerous levels of RCS, and with rule changes to limit exposure, workers short- and long-term lung health is becoming better protected than ever. 

Real-time silica dust monitoring

Want to learn more about real-time monitoring for RCS in the workplace?

British stone manufacturers introduce real-time dust monitoring technology trial across workforce

A manufacturer of prestigious natural stone, Burlington Stone have quarried for over 200 years across the English Lake District, extracting and crafting a diverse range of signature British natural slate and stone products.

Individuals across their workforce are often exposed to hazardous substances, most notably airborne dust, including silica dust. Burlington Stone trialed two XD1+ devices on their site for a month to see how real-time, personal dust monitoring would improve their safety processes.

After the trial, we spoke to Health and Safety Manager, Peter Walker, about the success of the trial and some of the major benefits which Burlington Stone’s workforce found deploying XD1+ Personal Dust Monitors in their day-to-day processes.

You can read the full case study below.

A collaborative approach to protect tunnelling workers.

With over 45 years of experience in the field of tunnelling, our partners, Timeco, are experts when it comes to tunnel boring machine (TBM), piling and foundation works, and other important activities involved in tunnelling. And when it comes to environmental monitoring for harsh tunnelling conditions, their partnership with Trolex has provided solutions to the entire tunnelling industry.

“We are satisfied with the 20+ years of cooperation with Trolex, as our official partner, because of the mutual trust in the innovative organisation and the reliability, user friendly

and durability of its products and solutions.” said Timeco, about the collaboration with Trolex to provide solutions to hazardous conditions in the tunnelling industry.

Trolex’s product range, provided to the tunnelling market in Europe by Timeco, includes a full range of dust monitoring technology, including AIR XD Dust Monitor and AIR XS Silica Monitor, as well as gas detection equipment, such as TX9165 Sentro 8 and TX6351-2 Sentro 1, detecting for a full range of hazardous gases.

AIR XS Silica Monitor deployed to monitor RCS levels during replacement of rail track

Our AIR XS Silica Monitor, an innovative real-time respirable silica (RCS) monitoring device, has been deployed at a major railway operations project to monitor the levels of RCS which workers may be exposed to.

The Central Rail Systems Alliance (CRSA), an alliance between Network Rail, Balfour Beatty, AtkinsRéalis and TSO have been using an AIR XS unit to monitor the levels of RCS released when damaged rail tracks are replaced; when rail track is damaged or needs replacing, the ballast surrounding the track is disturbed and can release RCS. The AIR XS unit was supplied by our UK partners Sunbelt UK & Ireland.

The challenge faced by CRSA was to measure the level of RCS and accompanying dust being released into the atmosphere during the unearthing process of 425m rail and ascertain the level of risk associated for those working in the immediate and surrounding environments. The AIR XS unit was manoeuvred around the site in-line with project progress, so that working scenarios can be accurately represented in the data set.

Upon conclusion of the project, Madeline Dunn, the Health and Safety Advisor for CRSA praised the monitoring and recording capabilities of the AIR XS, saying “We have completed trials prior, however this is the only unit where it is measuring silica and not just general dust levels. We gained the knowledge that the exposure levels were actually higher than we anticipated with even low-level ballast disturbance.”

Thanks to the team at Sunbelt Rentals UK & Ireland for the in-depth case study which you can read in full here.

AIR XS Silica Monitor: Not just another particle counter

Launched in 2022, the AIR XS Silica Monitor isn’t like other silica monitors on the market. If you’ve been in the Health and Safety space, it’s likely you’ll know about Optical Particle Counter (OPC), also known as “light-scattering”; but our patented AIR XS isn’t just another OPC.

Unlike traditional Optical Particle Counters (OPCs) that rely on light scattering and interruptions to deduce particle size and quantity, the patented Optical Refraction Technology (ORT) used in the AIR XS shines a laser through each particle, capturing its refraction on multiple sensors.

In our blog below, we reference Pink Floyd’s 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon to explain one way to how ORT works. It’s not exact by any means but the refraction of the light coming out of the prism shows an example of how light refracts, similar to a crystalline particle.

Get in touch

If you’d like a more in-depth look at how real-time data can contribute to reducing instances of occupational silicosis, then be sure to check out check out our white paper: How real-time data could be the beginning of the end for occupational silicosis.

Otherwise, if you operate in challenging environments where you know RCS is present, and want to protect your workforce, then you can get in touch to request a demonstration with one of our experts or find a local approved distributor.

How real-time data could be the beginning of the end for occupational silicosis

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. 

TROLEX INSPIRES NEW APPG PERSPECTIVE ON RESPIRATORY HEALTH

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.” 

A personal perspective from a retired stonemason and silicosis patient.

In this exclusive interview with Trolex, Gordon Sommerville shares his first-hand experience of the dangers of silica exposure and what you can do to protect yourself and others from the dangers of silica dust. 

“The only cure for dusty diseases at the moment is not to let dust get inside the body, which means in order for silica induced diseases to be classed as 100% preventable, awareness of the hazard throughout the exposed population is required.”

Gordon, now a retired stonemason, was diagnosed with silicosis in 2015. He started his career working in the construction industry after leaving school in 1976 and soon became a stonemason and builder to trade. In such an environment, working on projects both large and small throughout his career, dust was everywhere.

“No matter what type of work I was carrying out or who I was working for, daily dust was involved — and lots of it. I did not realise dust was making me ill but during my career there were little clues which should have raised a red flag.”

Gordon’s aim in sharing his story is to inform, educate and highlight the dangers of exposure to silica dust and to give advice to individuals who work in similar industries on how to avoid the issues that he now faces as a result of silicosis. 










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    Client: 

    Pennine Aggregates 

    Location:

    Buxton, Derbyshire  

    Industry:

    Aggregate and mineral processing 

    Services:  

    Blending and mixing, bulk tanker loading, contract bagging, contract drying screening and sieving.

    Pennine Aggregates are one of the largest specialist aggregate and mineral processors in the UK. Based in Buxton, Pennine Aggregates are a global supplier to a wide range of companies, including ABC Industries as well as Sherwin-Williams, Cemex and Hansons in the UK.  

    A growing problem in this industry is the threat of occupational silicosis. 

    Silicosis now causes a huge number of deaths across an increasing number of industries, from clothing manufacturing to construction; but the aggregates industry have one of the highest risk profiles for this fatal occupational lung disease. This meant that Pennine Aggregates grabbed the opportunity with both hands to trial the world’s first real-time respirable crystalline silica (RCS) monitor, the Air XS Silica Monitor, to see how they could integrate it into their existing dust suppression processes. 

    Mark Dickinson, a director at Pennine Aggregates said: “It’s really important to us as a business that we are using every tool that’s available to keep our workers safe and we were really excited to have the chance to see what impact using the first real-time RCS monitor would have on our processes and on workforce morale.”  

    In April 2022, we supplied them with an Air XS unit to test their processes across two main site locations over a six-week period. For Pennine Aggregates, it wasn’t that they didn’t have dust suppression in place, but more that they didn’t know exactly how much dangerous silica dust each of their processes were producing. 

    Mike Thompson, QHSE Manager said: “We were asking ourselves right across the business – is our dust suppression actually getting the right amount dust out of the environment, as quite frankly, before we installed the Air XS on our site we just didn’t know.” 

    Pennine Aggregates ran the Air XS Silica Monitor on their site over a six-week period on each of the processes where they had put in place new dust suppression systems. 










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      If you consent to us storing your personal data to provide the content and for further communications, please tick the checkbox below.

      You may unsubscribe from these communications at any time. For more information on how to unsubscribe, our privacy practices, and how we are committed to protecting and respecting your privacy, please review our Privacy Policy.

      OCCUPATIONAL SILICOSIS IN THE STONE INDUSTRY

      The effects of silicosis in the stone industry is not an unknown issue.

      But to what extent are stone workers aware of this issue? Are the specific causes of silicosis in the stone industry common knowledge? 

      A scientific report from nature.com highlights the difference between engineered stone and natural stone, in relation to their silica content, shedding some light on where the cause of silicosis could lie in the stone industry. 

       

      Silica dust is causing life-changing problems for stone masons

      Silicosis is one of the most dangerous respirable lung diseases in the workplace, especially when exposure to harmful silica dust is a common occurrence, such as in the stone industry. 

      It is estimated that globally, 40 to 50 million workers are exposed to silica dust in the workplace. 

      The Natural Stone Institute guide to awareness and prevention of silicosis determines that exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS), specifically in the stone industry comes from cutting or grinding materials, most commonly which contain quartz, is composed of silica dust. 

      Engineered stone vs Natural stone

      The purpose of the study from nature.com was to see, in relation to RCS, what the most threatening scenario was for worker’s health, in real time, when working with different compositions of stone. 

      In the study, 12 engineered stones were assessed against three natural stones – white marble, white granites and black granites. By dry-cutting all stones, silica dust was captured in a closed environment and subjected to various assays to determine both chemical and physical properties. 

      The 12 engineered stones’ silica content varied from one another, and the total RCS content made up of quartz and cristobalite ranged from 70.4% to 90.9%. By comparison, the natural stone’s silica content ranged from 3.5% to 30.1%, marking a clear difference. 

      As well as this, the dry-cutting of engineered stone generated finer RCS particles with one engineered stone having an average size of as little as 190 nanometres, meaning it could reach deeper in the lungs, in turn causing more damage. Contrastingly, the smallest average particle size of the natural stone was black granite, with an average size of 503 nanometres. 

      The results of this study concluded that silica dust emissions from engineered stones had a much higher concentration of quartz and cristobalite, therefore having a higher silica content and subsequently more damaging impact on respiratory health. 

      Is there a solution to silicosis within the stone industry?

      Ultimately, the report concluded that the higher the silica content of the stone, as well as the smaller size of RCS particles, the more dangerous it is to respirable health. 

      The Natural Stone Institute conclude in their guide to occupational silicosis that there is no cure for silicosis; however, “with the proper equipment, training, vigilance and continual monitoring, you and your shop floor can be free of the dangers”.  

      Being aware that harmful silica dust is higher within engineered stone, compared to natural stone, and by monitoring for this, as well as using correct respirable protective equipment (RPE) when working with engineered stone, it allows for correct precautions to be taken to avoid silicosis.  

      Prevention is the best cure.

      We’ve developed the world’s first real-time silica monitor, the AIR XS Silica Monitor, and, along with other health and safety controls, this is one of the tools that will help to prevent occupational silicosis for those exposed to harmful silica dust in the workplace. 

      If you’d like to learn more about our AIR XS, and specifically how it can help your safety processes to keep your workers safe from fatal occupational lung diseases, then complete the get in touch to arrange a call with one of our experts today.