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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      Revolutionary smart devices to future-proof health and safety

      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. 

      Helping Thermatic Homes meet the challenges of dust monitoring in domestic environments

      Based in Salford, M&E contractor Thermatic Homes has more than 70 electricians out in the field rewiring properties for social housing providers including The Wates Group, Unitas, Brunswick Regeneration and Bolton at Home. As an ex-electrician himself, Thermatic MD Karl Wallace is aware of the dust challenges their work creates. 

      “There are a lot of issues created by dust,” he says. “Chasing through to the brickwork and masonry is extremely intrusive and there’s a huge amount of dust created. We’re conscious that it’s potentially a dangerous environment if not controlled properly.” 

      Which is why Thermatic electricians always use dust extraction on their CHASE machines. Why they always wear dust masks, always screen doors and why they always hoover, clean, and spray the air with water. 

      Unlike a traditional building site, it’s not possible to saturate the air in people’s homes with water.   

      “It’s never ideal, says Karl, “and being an exelectrician myself, who’s rewired many a house, you always want to do more. Year on year as more information comes out about the harmful effects of dust, we’re increasingly aware of the dangers and want to do everything we can to prevent them.” 

      A new, better way of protecting staff and customers

      Which is why, when Karl was introduced to the XD One by Trolex MD Steve Holland, he was so keen to get it out on site to trial for dust detection. “What a wonderful idea!” says Karl. “It looks perfect.” 

      After all, what better way to instantly identify the dust threat than with accurate, real-time dust monitoring and readings? Even better that they’re available on wearable devices his team can just clip on as they work.  

      A real-time reading of the room designed not just to protect Thermatic workers but also to gain a clear understanding on dust levels that might impact on customers, too. 

      A clear message to the industry

      As important as the XD ONE Portable Dust Monitor is in protecting workers and tenants, using it also sends a very clear message to the industry, not just from Thermatic, but also from the main contractors Thermatic work for. 

      Very much a “we go above and beyond” message, any main contractor can be rightly proud to do their bit in helping to prevent the 12,000 deaths a year from workplace respiratory disease by using Thermatic and Trolex XD ONE Portable Dust Monitor.  

      It’s a pioneering approach in the construction industry that really prioritises health and safety and makes clear the commitment to worker and customer safety. 

       

      Thermatic and main contractor feedback

      With the XD ONE now onsite as part of a pilot phase to monitor rewiring and upgrade projects, we’ll be reporting back very soon. 

      Says Karl, “I’m really looking forward to seeing what kind of data the XD ONE gives us, the degree of harm it detects and what we can do about it.” 

      In the meantime if you want any more information on how the XD ONE can keep your workers and customers safe from the dangers of avoidable dust and particulate inhalation get in touch today.