Safety body reinforces 'Clear the Air!' campaign with statistics on silicosis deaths

The Health and Safety Executive has warned that smaller businesses within the industry are unaware of the dangers of silica dust.

The warnings come as the safety body attempted to boost its “Clear The Air!” multimedia campaign.

More than 500 construction workers lost their lives to lung cancer in 2004, with many more suffering from silicosis as a result of inhaling respirable crystalline silica, known as silica dust, or RCS.

The dangerous substance is found in stone dust, and is easily inhaled if unprotected construction workers are involved in cutting stone and concrete such as kerbs or paving blocks.

Sufferers are left breathless and unable to do sport or many daily activities. They can also be rendered housebound and dependent upon bottled oxygen.

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, but he warned: “reaching smaller businesses such as the one or two-man bands remains an important goal.”

He added: “Recently, I saw a subcontractor 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.”

The multimedia pack includes a DVD, leaflets and online forums showing construction workers ways to protect themselves from inhaling RCS.

"Anyone, no matter how big or small the company, can request information and we will provide it for free,” added Ellis.