MPs have been urged to take immediate action to prevent avoidable deaths and illness related to exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS), a dust that is created through the cutting of stone and stone-based substances.
It’s estimated that there are 2.2 million workers in the construction industry alone who could be at risk of respiratory diseases such as silicosis, cancer and tuberculosis.
The British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) and the Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection have now written to MPs, calling on them to tackle the issue head on.
This is especially important at the moment, given that 500 construction workers in the UK die annually from silicosis, which – according to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – is increasing vulnerability for those infected with coronavirus.
President of the BOHS Kelvin Williams said: “Every year, millions of pounds are spent on treatment and sickness benefits, because people have been exposed to silica dust. Much of this is entirely preventable. Prevention is undoubtedly cheaper, easier and better than trying to cure these illnesses.”
The BOSH has also expressed concerns that the problem could be exacerbated by a shortage of respiratory protection equipment, as well as cost increases, pressure to reduce such costs and an overstretched Health and Safety Executive.
Exposure to RCS over a long period of time can lead to scarring of the lung tissue and a loss of lung function. People are likely to experience severe shortness of breath, finding it difficult or even impossible to walk short distances or up stairs. And the effects can continue to develop after exposure has stopped.
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