New cross-industry commitment agreed to tackle silica dust (IOSH)

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Industry leaders, academics and safety and health experts today committed to a 12-month plan of action to tackle one of the enduring threats to people’s health at work.

Representatives from the construction, rail and mineral products sectors will join trade and health bodies, researchers and regulators in 2017 in raising awareness of, and taking preventative action against, harmful exposures to respirable crystalline silica (RCS).

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.

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Concerns over the threat and a lack of awareness brought together representatives from industry, academia and the safety and health profession for discussions in London earlier this year, organised by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

Now, participants in those talks 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.

Shelley Frost, executive director of policy at IOSH, said: “We can’t accept, in this day and age, that people are still exposed to the harmful effects of silica dust at work. 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.”

Representatives from the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, the Office of Road and Rail (ORR), Crossrail Ltd, the Mineral Products Association and Unite the Union are among those to have joined IOSH in signing the commitment.

It has also been backed by representatives of the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS), Network Rail, Park Health and Safety Partnership, Tideway, International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH), from Singapore the Workplace Safety and Health Institute, and experts at Imperial College London and Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM).

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

The agreement details a range of planned activities, including promotional work, sharing of good practice and educational activities. It has been struck after a roundtable discussion held earlier this year at The Shard, in London, hosted by IOSH as part of No Time to Lose, its campaign to raise awareness of, and provide resources to prevent, occupational cancers.

In the commitment, the organisations state that it is “an agreed plan of action that will pool the knowledge and resources of some of the leading organisations involved in managing the risks of RCS”.

The group has agreed to meet again in November 2017 to review progress against the three main objectives.

Ms Frost added: “This has been a unique opportunity to build upon the existing work each of the signatories have been deploying to address this health issue.  Working collaboratively to a single vision is a powerful enabler and I look forward to meeting again next year to discuss how we have brought about improvements in this area.”

According to Imperial College London research, around 800 people in Britain a year die from lung cancer caused by prolonged RCS exposure at work, with 900 new cases being diagnosed annually.

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