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Tackling the Health Risks of Silica Dust

A group of industry leaders, academics and safety and health experts have announced a 12-month plan of action to tackle harmful exposures to respirable crystalline silica (RCS), which has been described as one of the enduring threats to people’s health at work.

RCS, or silica dust, is commonplace in industries that work with rocks, sand and clay, and products such as bricks and concrete, but significant exposure can cause silicosis and lung cancer.

Simple controls can prevent deadly exposure but studies have found that tens of thousands of people are still dying each year worldwide from occupational cancer caused by RCS. In the UK, research conducted at Imperial College London has found that around 800 people a year die from lung cancer caused by prolonged RCS exposure at work, and 900 new cases are diagnosed annually.

Plan participants have signed a global commitment that will see businesses and hundreds of thousands of working people receive new information and advice on how to protect themselves from exposure to silica dust.

The signatories have agreed:

  • To work together to reduce exposure to RCS through effective monitoring and management of dust
  • To increase awareness and understanding of the potential health risks associated with exposure to RCS in order to change attitudes and behaviours
  • To share good practice on the management of RCS across industry sectors

“We can’t accept, in this day and age, that people are still exposed to the harmful effects of silica dust at work,” said Shelley Frost, executive director of policy at IOSH. “We can and will do more to tackle this threat, and it’s incredibly encouraging that industry, our profession, and the academic world will work collectively on this.”

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