Silicosis and Roof Tile Cutting

Silicosis Prevention At Work

What is Silicosis

Silicosis is a chronic lung disease caused by breathing in tiny bits of silica dust. Silica is the second most common mineral in the earth’s crust. It is a major component of sand, rock, and mineral ores like quartz. People who work in jobs where they can be breathing in these tiny silica bits—like sandblasting, mining, construction and many others—are at risk for silicosis. When people breathe silica dust, they inhale tiny particles of silica that has crystallized. This silica dust can cause fluid build-up and scar tissue in the lungs that cuts the ability to breathe. There are three types of silicosis:

  1. Chronic silicosis, the most common type of silicosis, usually occurs after 10 or more years of exposure to crystalline silica at low levels.
  2. Accelerated silicosis occurs 5 to 10 years after exposure and caused by exposure to higher levels of crystalline silica.
  3. Acute silicosis can occur after only weeks or months of exposure to very high levels of crystalline silica. Acute silicosis progresses rapidly and can be fatal within months.

Changes in cutting Roof Tiles

From 1st October 2012, contractors no longer had the  option of using just a cut-off saw to dry cut valley tiles.

In a bid to reduce the risks from silica dust, industry has  supported changes to working methods meaning that if a cut-off saw is used for cutting valley tiles, water suppression as well as the correct respiratory protective equipment must be used as well. This is in line with the controls currently in use for  cutting tiles in other sections of the roof.

A roof cutter sitting on the top of a roof and cutting into tiles with clouds of dusts around him and no face or dust mask on
Silicosis Dusts Being Inhaled

Contractors do have  the option of using other methods as long as they can demonstrate these are  equally as effective at controlling the silica risk. More information about this can be found on the National  Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC) website . Note: This is not a change to the law.

The Health and Safety  at Work etc. Act 1974 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health  Regulations 2002 (as amended) still apply in the same form. Inspectors can take  enforcement action should they find that risks from silica are not being  managed effectively to comply with the law.

Other Jobs known to increase the risk of Silicosis:

  • Highway and bridge construction and repair
  • Building construction, demolition, and repair
  • Abrasive blasting
  • Masonry work
  • Concrete finishing
  • Drywall finishing
  • Rock drilling
  • Mining
  • Sand and gravel screening
  • Rock crushing (for road base)

Measuring Compliance

The fine dust is called respirable crystalline silica (RCS) and is too fine to see with normal lighting. The quantity of silica contained in stone and other materials varies considerably between different types of stone:
Approximate crystalline silica content of different materials

  • Sandstone 70–90%
  • Concrete, mortar 25–70%
  • Tile 30–45%
  • Granite 20–45%, typically 30%
  • Slate 20–40%
  • Brick Up to 30%
  • Limestone 2%
  • Marble 2%

In Britain, RCS exposure has a workplace exposure limit (WEL), which sets the exposure below a set limit, preventing excessive exposure.

The WEL for RCS is 0.1 mg/m3 expressed as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA).

Exposure to RCS is also subject to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH).

There were 95 cases of silicosis in 2007 and 85 in 2008 reported from the Industrial Injury Disablement Benefit (IIDB) scheme. There were 14 deaths from silicosis reported in 2006 and 7 in 2007.

For more information about health issues around silicosis go to  NHS Choices

For more information about controlling silica dust go to HSE website here

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