Time to clear the air - paving the way for healthier work

In 2004 in Great Britain, more than 500 construction workers lost their lives
to lung cancer and even more were suffering from silicosis as a result of
inhaling a dangerous substance called Respirable Crystalline Silica, (known as
'silica dust' or 'RCS'). These striking estimates are based on HSE-funded

Found in stone dust, RCS is easily inhaled if unprotected construction workers
are involved in cutting stone and concrete such as kerbs or paving blocks.

The effects of silicosis can leave sufferers breathless and unable to do sport,
or daily activities we normally take for granted. They can be rendered
housebound and dependent upon bottled oxygen.

The British Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) 'Clear The Air!' multimedia
campaign was produced in collaboration with the construction industry; a DVD,
leaflets and online forums show construction workers how to protect themselves
from inhaling RCS. More than 240,000 leaflets and 3,000 copies of the DVD have
been requested by industry.

The DVD was edited and scripted by highly experienced members of the industry,
such as 'voiceover' Seamus Doyle from Daniel contractors. Vaughan Burnand,
Chair of Major Contractors Group Health and Safety Committee said:

"Methods and products to prevent dust clouds have been available for a long
time and this working group has produced a range of resources to facilitate
their use. It is now up to industry as a whole to take the lead and prevent
needless illness and deaths caused by silica dust."

The campaign also engages hire companies through the Hire Association Europe
and the Builders Merchants Federation to access hard to reach groups. Few hire
companies have provided dust suppression kits with their machinery, but STIHL
(GB) has done this for its cut-off saws for 30 years. Since the launch of the
campaign, Mark-One-Hire has also pledged to support the campaign:

"We are now offering this [dust suppression equipment] free for a period to
support the construction industry in its goal to reduce this needless illness,"
said managing director, Clive Potter.

Agencies are choosing to communicate the campaign messages to their staff in
different ways. The Highways Agency is getting on the road with its specially
equipped health and safety training vehicle to reach their workers across the

Interpave (British Precast Concrete Federation) has also produced excellent
guidance on good practice including alternatives to cutting, which can be
downloaded for free from the Interpave website. One of their case studies also
recommends that cutting offsite should be an option, (even for difficult jobs),
and makes suggestions for precast concrete kerbs.

Using plastic kerbs to avoid creating dust is an alternative that's gaining
wide support in the industry. In fact, the Highways Agency recently triumphed
at the Building magazine awards, winning 'Client with the Best Commitment to
Health and Safetyin2008' for their use of plastic kerbs.

HSE's Dr Robert Ellis from the Chemicals Risk Management Unit is leading the
'Clear the Air' campaign. He is encouraged by reports that the industry has
reported a marked increase in staff awareness and improved compliance.

"However," adds Rob, "reaching smaller businesses such as the one or two-man
bands remains an important goal. Recently, I saw a sub-contractor working
without any dust suppression and the foreman told me he didn't even realise
there was an issue and was shocked to realise there was a cancer risk."

"HSE wants to continue the good work to make sure we're reaching everyone so
we're asking everyone in Construction to become better informed. Anyone, no
matter how big or small the company, can request information and will provide
it for free."

HSE has three top requests for the construction industry and their suppliers:

  • To use methods, materials and equipment to meet the legal requirements.

  • To ensure standards are being achieved.

  • Inform colleagues, employees and others of the risk.

Further info

AplusA-online.de - Source: Health & Safety Executive