Dust extraction solutions designed specifically for the stone industry are vital to protect workers from potentially dangerous substances. Stone cutting, processing and polishing all produce huge volumes of dust – silica particles are a really serious hazard.
Silica is a substance with the potential to cause life-changing diseases, such as lung cancer and silicosis. People working in stone masonry are often exposed to large volumes of silica dust, resulting in serious respiratory diseases if they aren’t protected.
Failure to comply with health and safety regulations, such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, could also result in hefty fines.
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What are the risks of silica dust?
Brick and stone dust can contain Respirable Crystalline Silica, which is extremely dangerous and known to cause health problems. It is produced by various construction and manufacturing processes including stone masonry, quarrying and the construction industry in general.
Inhaling crystalline silica can cause potentially fatal diseases if an employee is exposed for prolonged periods without the relevant PPE and safety procedures in place. Being exposed to high amounts of brick dust for even a short time can also have serious health effects.
Diseases that can be caused by breathing in silica dust include lung cancer, silicosis (which can lead to tuberculosis) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, commonly known as COPD. Silica exposure has also been linked to other cancers and renal disease. The resulting breathing problems, particularly those affecting people with COPD, increase the risks of lung cancer.
Which processes create the highest risks?
Many workplace activities pose a risk of silica dust exposure. As well as the main high-risk industries, workers involved in the manufacture of bricks and tiles are also in danger.
Kitchen workshop and stone fireplace manufacture, slate mining and processing, grinding concrete, cutting paving flags and kerbs, ceramics manufacture, monument making, rock drilling, sandstone blasting, and demolition work also create dust hazards. Foundry work such as sand and castings duties, and mixing, shovelling and handling dry material is particularly dangerous.
Sandstone comprises 70% to 90% crystalline silica – the highest percentage of any masonry material. The silica content of concrete and mortar varies between 25% and 70%, bricks contain up to 30%, tiles contain 30% to 45% and granite 20% to 45%.
The abundance of this dust as a contaminant means specific stone dust extraction systems should always be used to protect employees. Silica dust is extremely fine, so it’s often not visible under normal lighting – another reason why it is so dangerous.
Consequences of not using silica dust extraction
Not using the appropriate dust extraction for stone masonry can have severe consequences. One UK stone masonry company was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 costs after pleading guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
The court heard how an employee developed silicosis after being exposed to respirable silica dust. Employees had been cutting and working with stone for several years without suitable dust extraction facilities.
The company failed to make sure the appropriate respiratory protective equipment was controlling workers’ exposure to respiratory silica dust. No processes or control measures were put in place and no health surveillance was carried out to identify the early signs of a potential impact on workers’ health.
The Health and Safety Executive, which is responsible for maintaining safety in the workplace, said after the hearing; fine particles of silica are found in most rocks, sand, clay, bricks and concrete.
Exposure to the dust can cause silicosis, breathing problems and impaired lung function. It can be life threatening. The HSE reiterated that steps should be taken to stop employees from breathing in the dust. The organisation will not hesitate to take action against any company that doesn’t protect its workers’ health.
Stone dust extraction solutions
The leading stone dust extraction solutions include the AirBench Downdraught Bench for high volume dusts and the VertEx Cross Draught Booth to provide a walk-in dust control booth. Both are designed with integral pulse-cleaning filter systems.
These high-quality dust extraction products and solutions comply with, or exceed, the standards required by COSHH and HSG258.