IOSH joins cross-industry initiative to cut cancer risk

Measures to control employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS), the second biggest cancer-causing agent in the world’s workplaces, have been introduced by a cross-sectoral group of organisations. After signing a commitment to tackle the cancer risk, organisations have removed or substituted materials containing the deadly dust. Others have introduced mechanisms to control what workers breathe in.

'Tackling respirable crystalline together: a cross-industry commitment' was joined by organisations from many industries including construction, rail and mineral products, as well as professional bodies, academics and unions. It followed a round table discussion hosted by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) as part of its No Time to Lose (NTTL) occupational cancer campaign in March 2016.

  • Lung cancer caused by silica dust exposure through work kills nearly 800 people a year in Britain – an average of 15 per week. In the European Union, it is estimated that around five million people are exposed to silica dust in the workplace every year. To help tackle this significant health issue, the commitment set out three principal objectives: Work together to reduce exposure to RCS through effective monitoring and management of dust
  • Increase awareness and understanding of the potential health risks associated with exposure to RCS to change attitudes and behaviours
  • Share good practice on the management of RCS across industry sectors.

IOSH surveyed 36 pledge signatories to see what actions had been taken, with the majority saying IOSH’s campaign resources had proved useful. Shelley Frost, IOSH Director of Strategic Development, said:

“It was encouraging to see a number of participants eliminating the risk by removing or substituting silica-containing materials and considering mechanisms for controlling dust at source. Over 70 per cent are also actively reviewing contractors’ risk assessments for potential silica dust exposure and controls. This really illustrates how our No Time to Lose campaign is helping businesses drive change and prevent exposure to RCS.”

In November 2017, IOSH organised a meeting to discuss the important work implemented by organisations on RCS at the International Convention Centre (ICC), Birmingham, UK. Representatives from organisations including the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS), International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH), Imperial College London, Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM), Mineral Products Association (MPA), Network Rail, Office of Rail and Road (ORR), Park Health and Safety Partnership, Tideway, and the Workplace Safety and Health Institute in Singapore took part in the discussion and shared how they have tackled RCS.

Speaking about actions taken by IOSH, Ms Frost added:

“Over the past 18 months IOSH, through its No Time to Lose campaign, has raised awareness of silica dust at over 50 events globally. We have collaborated with the Society of Safety Engineers Ljubljana in Slovenia, the Center for Safety and Health at Work in Bulgaria and Hong Kong’s MTR Corporation Ltd to adapt and translate the campaign's silica dust resources to help raise awareness at conferences overseas. We have also worked with small and large businesses to develop good practice case studies. Through our promotions the silica dust resources have been downloaded from the campaign website over 24,500 times.”

ICOH publicised findings from a study in September, which revealed that around 48,000 deaths are caused by exposure to silica dust at work worldwide, every year. The IOM published a scientific paper that includes a health and economic assessment for RCS, which is being used to underpin possible changes to European Regulations. Imperial College London highlighted the silica burden at high-profile conferences such as the Netherlands’ Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment’s ‘Preventing work-related cancer, conference on carcinogens’. The UK’s Health and Safety Executive is tackling RCS through a variety of interventions including its Health and Work strategy, the Go Home Healthy campaign and the Workplace Healthy Lungs Summit.

The BOHS launched a new course ‘Certificate in Controlling Health Risks in Construction’ and delivered four roadshows as part of their Breathe Freely Campaign. Unite the Union has raised awareness of RCS to all Unite National Industrial Sector Committees. The ORR, Crossrail and Network Rail are working to improve conditions and raise awareness throughout the rail industry. Network Rail has implemented a strategic review, comparing ballast and dust specifications, gaining a better understanding of risk exposures and providing a range of mitigations to reduce the risk of exposure.