“Act now to avoid the next asbestos” as silicosis cases rise in the UK

The UK’s favourite DIY and home improvement expert, Tommy Walsh, is calling for more to be done to protect workers from the dangers of silica dust.

Tommy believes that the issue of air quality on building sites should be a national concern, and that silica dust should be viewed the same way as asbestos.

While he became aware of the dangers of silica dust as an issue around five years ago, in relation to the disposal of plasterboard, Tommy says that he has not heard the issue discussed on building sites. This is in spite of the fact that 81% of those regularly exposed to silica dust are construction workers.

Silicosis: A national concern

Tommy shared that the majority of health and safety concerns on smaller building sites are focused around obvious, external risks, such as falling from a ladder, electricity and water. As a result, he believes that more needs to be done to raise awareness of “invisible” risks, such as occupational silicosis, which is the most common chronic lung disease in the world.

He continued, “over half of the country’s construction is done by small builders and ‘one-man-band’ outfits. Air quality has always been a secondary concern to them, as they don’t know enough about it. Everyone would rather work safe than not safe, but they can’t do that if they don’t have the awareness. Health and safety can often be ignored due to cost-saving, time-saving, or ignorance, but if we can normalise the importance of air quality it will make it harder to ignore.”

Recent data has shown that respirable crystalline silica (RCS) is the biggest risk to construction workers after asbestos, with cases and exposure rising year on year. There are 12,000 deaths a year in the UK from inhalation of dust including silica in the workplace, opposed to just 142 recorded due to workplace accidents between 2020/2021. What’s more, there are an estimated 50,000 workers worldwide exposed to silica dust.

The scale of the issue is not matched by the awareness and action needed to prevent it.

Silicosis, as well as being the world’s most common occupational lung disease, can increase a person’s risk of tuberculosis, kidney disease, arthritis, and lung cancer. The consequences of occupational silicosis have been estimated to cost employers in the UK construction industry over £1 million per year.

In order to raise awareness and protect construction workers from this entirely preventable disease, Trolex have launched the Air XS Silica Monitor, the world’s first real-time silica monitor, which can provide real-time data of dangerous silica dust particles workers are exposed to across any given day.

Requiring no complicated set-up and only five minutes of maintenance a month, the Air XS Silica Monitor is easy-to-use and provides accurate, real-time RCS monitoring with minimal training, letting workers know if the amount of RCS content in their workspace is increasing as they work and when it has risen to dangerous levels.

Get in touch today using the contact form below to speak to one of our experts about how the Trolex Air XS Silica Monitor can help protect workers from occupational silicosis.








    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. 








      Combatting occupational silicosis: This is personal

      By Glyn Pierce-Jones – CEO of Trolex.

      ***

      What might seem like a nine-year journey to develop the Trolex Air XS Silica Monitor actually goes back 150 years. Our new real-time silica detection technology has surprising origins… 

      It starts at a time when miners had next to no protection, especially from harmful silica dust, and to a place that ‘roofed the world’; Snowdonia’s beautiful, bleak, Blaenau Ffestiniog.

      UNESCO Heritage status

      Recently awarded UNESCO heritage status, it was here that my grandfathers, great grandfathers, uncles, and cousins all worked, mining slate. 

      Arawn and Ieuan. Dai and Dewi. Merfyn and Maldwyn.

      And it’s here that many of them died, often as young as in their 40s, from occupational silicosis.

      No health and safety. No silica detection and prevention. No chance.

      Personal and poignant

      It makes the work we do at Trolex all the more personal and all the more poignant.

      And it’s a major part of the reason we’ve worked so hard to solve the age-old problem of occupational silicosis. 

      So that modern-day miners and quarry workers – in fact, anyone who might come into contact with silica in their working lives, from construction workers to plasterers, factory workers and stonemasons – will never have to suffer the same fate as my forefathers. 

      A new hope

      And all it took was vision and ingenuity, optimism and grit, and endless trips to the bank manager. And despite being told we’d never do it – we’ve done it.

      New real-time dust monitoring technology that offers new hope to people who previously had no hope of avoiding an unnecessary, painful and premature end to their lives caused by occupational lung diseases.

      It’s called the Air XS Silica Monitor

      And it’s astonishing.

      The world’s first real-time silica detection technology saving lives all over the world – made of legends.

      As they used to say in the back bar at the Miners Inn in Blaenau…

      Dyma i chi fechgyn!*

      Drop me a line and I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the Air XS Silica Monitor and the many ways it can benefit your staff and your business.

      *Here’s to you, boys!








        Silica isn’t the new asbestos

        It’s been said hundreds of times…

        Silica dust is the new asbestos.

        But what if it’s not? What if there’s really nothing new about silica dust in relation to asbestos?

        The link between the two is even closer than you may think…

        What is asbestos?

        Most people know asbestos as the dangerous insulator used in construction, responsible for over 5,000 related disease-deaths per year, typically lung cancer and asbestosis.

        However, in its natural form, asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous silicate mineral.

        Put simply, silicate minerals make up asbestos fibres.

        Asbestos is actually just one of the many different forms of silicate materials, in the same way that silica dust is.

        The similarities between silica dust and asbestos are much closer than people are aware of.

        SO WHAT?

        There is a different attitude towards asbestos compared to silica dust.

        The dangers of exposure to asbestos are well documented.

        Exposure to asbestos can cause serious lung conditions, including asbestosis and mesothelioma. It is the number 1 cause of recorded work-related deaths in the world.

        Most people in the UK are aware of its dangers, particularly as asbestos was banned in 1999 for construction work in the UK.

        Yet despite all of this, very few people are aware of how dangerous exposure to silica dust is, despite the fact that asbestos fibres are made up of silicate materials, in the same way silica is.

        There are many more dangers relating to silica dust than people may be aware of.

        Let’s put this into perspective

        Imagine you are working on refurbishing your bathroom and from the grinding of the ceramic sink and a load of dust becomes airborne.

        If you were told that this airborne dust which you were inevitably inhaling was asbestos, you’d probably run a mile, right?

        And who could blame you? A dust which is responsible for approximately 90,000 asbestos-related diseases per year. You’d want to get as far away from it as possible.

        Well, it’s likely that that dust in your bathroom would in fact be silica dust.

        A dust which made up of silicate materials in the same way asbestos fibres are. A respirable dust which is just as lethal, if not more lethal, in comparison to asbestos dust.

        But because it isn’t known to people as being the same as asbestos, the dangers seem to be less of a concern to people.

        The issue is much wider than this…

        It’s time to get real and become aware of just how dangerous silica dust is.

        It is reported that, in crystalline form, respirable crystalline silica (RCS) is responsible for the death of 600 people per year in Great Britain with 450 of those to workers in construction industry. What’s more, an estimated 50,000 workers are exposed to silica dust globally.

        The importance of the dangers of silica dust must be realised, especially with what is known about how dangerous asbestos is.

        Don’t let history repeat itself

        Asbestos is just as lethal as silica dust. The dangers are the same, yet we cannot afford for the results of exposure to silica dust to be the same as what occurred with asbestos.

        Silica could be as lethal as asbestos, if not more so, with equally serious consequences.

        Being aware of the issue is the start, action must be taken to protect workers from this dangerous dust.

        We cannot afford to let history repeat itself.

        Let’s get real on silica.








          Bringing solutions to combat fraud within the construction industry

          Fraud within the construction industry is nothing new. In fact, it’s getting worse.

          After news emerged of two construction skills’ test administrators being jailed for fraud, the evidence suggests that it’s too easy to cut corners in construction health and safety.

          A growing problem for the construction industry

          In a 2019 report by Construction News, it was found that the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) were to review 2,500 safety tests after several arrests were made for fraudulent construction testing.

          Further reports in November 2020 stated that a ‘crackdown on fraud in construction testing’ would be taking place to prevent further crimes. It looked as though fraudulent activity within construction was being treated with the severity it deserved.

          However, recent news shows that cases of fraud are still occurring frequently. Most notably, in late-February of this year, two construction skills test administrators were jailed for 28 months after pleading guilty to falsifying CITB health and safety checks for personal profit.

          The pair from Knutsford, Cheshire, were said to be profiting around £37,700 by creating fake health and safety tests and supplying fake Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) cards to workers, almost three years after the CITB first announced their review.

          Adam Kingsgate, Assistant Director of Fraud Investigation Service for the HRMC, affirmed in 2020 that the “HMRC is committed to taking action on all those who steal from the public purse.

          This highlights that whilst action is being taken to reprimand fraud within the construction industry, the problem is not being stopped at its root, which, in turn, means there are potentially thousands of workers exposed to the risk of poor health and safety training.

          Is the problem being taken seriously?

          In the most recent case in Knutsford, it is estimated that 1,305 fake CSCS cards dating back to January 2020 had been revoked. That’s 1,305 incidents in which construction workers are exposed to a variety of health and safety risks they haven’t properly been prepared for.

          The requirements for an approved training organisation’s documentation from the CTID, which certifies the legitimacy for testing, was last revised in February 2020, meaning the application process hasn’t been tightened or changed since the HMRC’s promise in November 2020.

          This unfortunately shows that although there are some guidelines in place, which try to prevent fraud from occurring, priority for workers health and safety does not seem to be treated as important as they say it should be, in reality.

          If fraudsters are able to bypass the regulations currently in place, then it is likely that these events will continue.

          So, what can be done to stop this?

          Workplace health and safety that can’t be cheated…

          There’s a simple way to improve matters. Reliable and accurate health and safety testing that cannot be cheated.

          Although in this instance the issue lies within testing, it is evident the overall problem runs deeper throughout the whole construction industry, and this is a worry when people’s lives are potentially at stake.

          Making health and safety testing and equipment accurate, reliable, safe and trustworthy is difficult to achieve, especially when policies do not help to drive home this message.

          We have found this countless times in our research and development for particulate monitoring and silica dust in particular over the last eight years.

          Current particulate monitoring policies rely on collecting, for example, silica particulates on a filter, then transporting this to a lab to analyse. How do you know that all the silica dust collected stays on the filter for an accurate result? You don’t unfortunately.

          The standard guidelines state, ‘The best method of transportation is by using a reliable person who is aware of the need for care.’, yet this is something that can’t be measured.

          However, now, Trolex has the technology to provide on-site, digital, real-time silica dust monitoring with our new product, the Air XS Silica Monitor, taking numerous inaccuracies like this out of the equation providing health and safety provisions which cannot be cheated.

          Health and safety should never be about guesswork, or inaccurate methods of measurements, nor should it be put second best to profitability or personal gain.

          Trolex real-time particulate monitors

          It’s time to get real on using real-time dust monitoring to reduce occupational lung diseases with the Air XD Dust Monitor and the XD One Personal Dust Monitor, and launching next month, the Air XS Silica Monitor.








            What has real-time silica monitoring technology got to do with jeans?

            The short answer is a lot – but read on to find out why.

            We are talking here about the trendy, sometimes skinny, but definitely distressed, smooth and comfortable jeans that are likely to be worn by every third student in any college or university campus in the UK, Australia or the US today.

            The problem

            The process of sandblasting is a simple one, a compressor, a hose and basic sand is all that is needed to blast over the denim and create a smooth, distressed look. This can be performed manually, or mechanically, but is the same process in either application.

            The problem lies with the type of sand used.

            In regulated counties, the use of abrasives that contain more than 1% free silica has long since been banned, as whilst sandblasting clothes is a relatively new practice, sandblasting has been used commonly in the mining and building industries for several decades in western societies. Harmful silica dust with high levels of Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) – the dangerous particulates that cause Silicosis – was identified relatively early in these industries, and as such, the UK banned the use of silica sand being used in sandblasting back in 1950. The European Economic Community banned its use in 1966, the US in 1974, and Sweden later still in 1992.

            Unregulated countries such as Turkey, Syria, Bangladesh, Mexico, India and Indonesia were not subject to these restrictions, so clothing manufacturers moved to these and other countries in South East Asia and North Africa, in order to continue this, and other cheap, effective, but dangerous practices.

            Silvana Cappuccio, a health and safety expert at the International Textile Garment & Leather Workers’ Federation, states that production “tends to move to regions where labour is cheap and legislation is weaker.

             

            The scale of the problem

            A four-year medical follow up study on denim sandblasters across Turkey, Brazil, China and Japan from 2007 to 2011 made some bleak observations:

            • Denim sandblasters are at a high risk of silicosis.
            • Patients with silicosis because of denim sandblasting exhibit rapid disease progression,
              and many of the complications associated with silicosis, including death, appear to
              be unavoidable.
            • Among the 145 former sandblasters studied in 2007, 83 were re-assessed in 2011.
              In the four-year follow-up period, nine (6.2%) had died at a mean age of 24 years.
            • Of the 74 living sandblasters available for re-examination, the prevalence of silicosis
              increased from 55.4% to 95.9%, regardless of age, gender or whether they were smokers.
            • The affect was most prominent in workers that slept within the workplace.

            Perhaps the most shocking observation was the final conclusion to the study, which stated outright: “almost all former denim sandblasters may develop silicosis, despite short exposures and latency.”

            This study, labelled silicosis as ‘inevitable’ in former sandblasters, which really does expose the problem as a truly global issue.

            What has been done about it?

            Banning the use of silica-sand, and sandblasting jeans in general has been enforced in most countries now, following a very damning report by a doctor in Turkey in 2004. The report reached the Turkish government who eventually banned the process five years later in 2009. From this, a Clean Clothing movement began, led by the Fair Trade Center that investigated 17 clothing brands in 2010, leading to all 17 brands banning the sandblasting of denim by 2011, and a world awareness with the BBC and various ethical clothing enthusiasts getting on board with the Clean Clothes Campaign, that has not only gone viral but has got the attention of a global audience.

            As late as 2019 however, there has been some evidence that China is still sandblasting jeans illegally far down the supply chain, hidden from the end buyer. So, the bottom line is, you have no real way of knowing if the faded, comfortable, low-cost jeans we buy off the shelf today in any high-street store not part of the 2010 study, has been subject to an ethical manufacturing process.

            The uncomfortable truth maybe that we have helped a foreign worker contract silicosis – however indirectly.

            What has all this got to do with Trolex?

            Eradicating silica dust from unsafe sandblasting practices in jeans manufacturing, is a good first step, but silica dust is still unavoidable in other industries.

            Quarrying, construction and the manufacturing of stone, bricks and most mining industries will always release some silica dust particulates in the air, and the efforts have to be on the controls that need to be put in place to avoid workers ingesting respirable crystalline silica (RCS), which leads to silicosis.

            The UK, US and Australia are making real headway in tackling this problem, but the main issue that has emerged throughout all the research, has been the lack of any real-time data.

            Monitoring silica dust, it not an easy process, and this is why Trolex have spent the last eight years developing a way to do just this, in real time, to protect the workers on site every day, and throughout the day. New laser technology has been developed in the Air XS Silica Monitor, that will soon be available to monitor RCS in this way. Providing more information about where silica is, when and how much is produced, which then gives employers the opportunity to protect their staff clearly, using controls such as better ventilation and PPE usage where it’s needed most on site. This knowledge undoubtedly makes a difference, and ultimately helps the global vision and mission to prevent RCS overexposure for good, saving countless lives.

            Jeans, it seems, have helped to open up the global conversation and war on silicosis, so they really do have a great deal to do with silica, and in turn, Trolex.

            To find out more about what we are doing about reduces instances of occupational silicosis, use the contact form to get in touch with one of our experts today.