The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have announced new rounds of dust control inspections, which will take place over the coming weeks. HSE inspectors will concentrate on industries such as construction, woodworking and food manufacturing where occupational lung diseases, including in some cases occupational cancers, are more common.
Inspectors are visiting businesses across the country to see what measures have been put in place to protect workers’ lungs from the likes of asbestos, silica, wood and flour dust. They will be looking for evidence of businesses and their workers knowing the risks, planning their work and using the right controls. Where necessary, HSE will use enforcement to make sure people are protected.
Extent of the problem
There are currently 12,000 Lung disease deaths each year estimated to be linked to past exposures at work.
Estimates of self-reported “breathing or lung problems” according to the Labour Force Survey currently show: around 20,000 new cases each year; 43,000 new and long-standing cases among those who worked in the previous year, and 146,000 among those who have ever worked.
Most of these diseases – with the main exception of occupational asthma and other allergic respiratory disease – are long latency diseases in which symptoms typically start to become apparent many years after the time of first exposure to the agents that caused them. Latency periods for occupational asthma and other allergic respiratory disease may vary considerably and can be relatively short in some cases.
Currently occurring cases of long latency diseases like occupational Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and cancer will tend to reflect the effects of past working conditions, although, many of the causative agents can still be present in many workplaces and thus constitute a potential on-going hazard.
The risk assessment, as required by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (Regulation 6) should follow the Principles of good practice:
- Design and operate processes and activities to minimise emission, release and spread of substances hazardous to health.
- Take into account all relevant routes of exposure – inhalation, skin absorption and ingestion – when developing control measures.
- Control exposure by measures that are proportionate to the health risk.
- Choose the most effective and reliable control options which minimise the escape and spread of substances hazardous to health.
- Where adequate control of exposure cannot be achieved by other means, provide in combination with other control measures, suitable personal protective equipment.
- Check and review regularly all elements of control measures for their continuing effectiveness.
- Inform and train all employees on the hazards and risks from the substances with which they work and the use of control measures developed to minimise the risks.