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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The capricious nature of the construction industry makes it an incredibly unpredictable and stressful place for many workers and in recent times, the uncertainties around potential lockdowns and national restrictions have only added to this unpredictability.
The industry is in desperate need of solutions to help combat this increased stress, and one area with great potential for improving the general mental wellbeing of workers is the recent advancement in technology use within their industry.
A survey conducted in 2021 by Constructing Excellence Southwest (CESW) showed that 62% of people working in construction were concerned about feeling stressed, with a further statistic suggesting male construction workers are three times more likely to commit suicide than the average UK male.
With increased workloads, due to a backlog caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the amount of complex project completion within short timeframes has increased, along with the risk of injuries and harm, causing more stress and unrest both in and out of the workplace.
Regardless, development in recent technology aims to alleviate some of the problems that construction workers are facing.
One advancement since the pandemic was an improvement in cloud-based communication. Projects can now be worked on collaboratively without the need to be on-site with shared access to documents and important information available remotely via online access. This allows for work to progress even with a backlog, reducing worker’s concern over having to be on-site to complete a task.
This isn’t the only progression for technology within the industry. Ownminder, an app set up by a collaboration of industry experts and personnel, provides strategies to support and provide advice for the mental health of construction workers. The app is available 24 hours a day and is accessible anywhere, meaning workers have support for their mental health wherever they are.
The stigma around mental health within the construction industry is still rife, so the opportunity to access mental health support anytime, anywhere is essential. Ownminder provides an alternative for workers who are not comfortable in talking to their superior, in relation to such issues. Again, relieving some of the stress and stigma.
Whether the technology helps the worker directly, via an app, or technology which allows them to work remotely, progress is being made. The security for workers of both being able to complete tasks regardless of accessibility to sites, as well as knowing they have support for their mental health, is a massive step forward for the industry.
“Ultimately, technology can relieve many pressures in a matter of minutes, if companies are willing to embrace it” states Steven McMenzie of Ed Controls UK. New technology within the construction industry has been somewhat overlooked, but now it seems there is a positive effect which it can have on the wellbeing of the industry.
Thanks to the development of such technologies during the pandemic, efficiency seems to be improving and the industry is looking forward when it comes to new technology, not backwards.
This of course benefits a company like Trolex, as now more than ever, health and safety technology is being taken seriously.
Not only are solutions being found to support the mental health of workers, but productivity is increasing overall, as well as collaboration and the reduction of risk. The effect which technology is having on the construction industry both mentally and physically on the construction industry should not be underestimated.
If you would like to read more about the psychological aspect of workers related to health and safety, please read more here.