Unite start online register for Silica dust exposure

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Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union, has today launched an online register to allow workers who have been exposed to silica dust to register their exposure, to assist with potential future legal cases if they experience long term health problems.

Silica dust (respirable crystalline silica) is created when cutting, grinding, drilling or polishing, natural substances such as rocks and sand and is also a major constituent in bricks, tiles, concrete and materials.

Workers at risk

Industries where workers are potentially exposed to silica include: mining, quarrying, foundries, potteries, ceramics, glass manufacturing, stonemasonry, construction and industries using silica flour.

Inhaling large amounts of silica dust over a long period can cause silicosis a serious respiratory disease; it can also lead to other potentially fatal illnesses including lung cancer, tuberculosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Exposure to silica has also been linked to other illnesses such as kidney disease and other cancers.

Long-term damage

The symptoms of silicosis take many years to develop, making a register even more important to identify when and where workers were exposed. The symptoms of silicosis include: shortness of breath, severe cough, fatigue, loss of appetite, chest pains and fever.

It is the employers’ responsibility to prevent workers from being exposed to silica dust; this should be by removing the risk, using dust suppression measures or by issuing the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as properly fitting masks in order to prevent exposure.

Unite has produced a short film to explain about the register and the dangers of breathing in silica dust to accompany the launch of the register.

Important step

Unite national health and safety advisor Bud Hudspith said: “The Unite silica register is an important step to help members provide evidence for possible future claims.

 “Silica exposure can have long-term serious health consequences for workers, but simple measures can prevent the health of workers being damaged.

 “Unfortunately many employers remain willing to play fast and loose with the health of their workers.

 “Unite’s primary aim is to ensure employers prevent silicosis and lung cancer through the removal or strict control of silica dust.”

The silica register was developed in Unite’s south east region, where members of the union employed at Prysmian Cables in Hampshire which is a world leader in cable production, raised concerns about the long-term welfare of fellow workers.

Warning workers

Michael Hobbs, Unite’s senior steward at Prysmian Cables said: “The silica register is long overdue; the threat of exposure is a millstone round the necks of workers in many different sectors.

 “Educating and warning workers about the dangers of airborne dust will undoubtedly save lives, so credit should be given to everyone behind launching this much needed campaign.”

 The silica exposure register can be found online.