The online silica register has been set up by the Unite union to support future legal cases if those registered experience long-term health problems as a result of silica exposure.
Silica dust (respirable crystalline silica) is created when cutting, grinding, drilling or polishing, natural substances such as rocks and sand and is also a major constituent in bricks, tiles, concrete and materials.
The register is not limited to construction workers. Industries where workers are potentially exposed to silica also include mining, quarrying and stonemasonry, as well as foundries, potteries, ceramics, glass manufacturing and industries using silica flour.
Inhaling large amounts of silica dust over a long period can cause silicosis, a serious respiratory disease. It can also lead to other potentially fatal illnesses including lung cancer, tuberculosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Exposure to silica has also been linked to other illnesses such as kidney disease and other cancers.
As the symptoms of silicosis – shortness of breath, coughing, fatigue, loss of appetite, chest pains and fever – can take many years to develop, the aim of the register is to help identify when and where workers have been exposed.
Unite national health and safety advisor Bud Hudspith said: “The Unite silica register is an important step to help members provide evidence for possible future claims. Silica exposure can have long-term serious health consequences for workers, but simple measures can prevent the health of workers being damaged.
“Unfortunately many employers remain willing to play fast and loose with the health of their workers. Unite’s primary aim is to ensure employers prevent silicosis and lung cancer through the removal or strict control of silica dust.”
The silica register was developed in Unite’s south east region, where members of the union employed at Prysmian Cables in Hampshire raised concerns about the long-term welfare of colleagues.
Michael Hobbs, Unite’s senior steward at Prysmian Cables, said: “The silica register is long overdue; the threat of exposure is a millstone round the necks of workers in many different sectors. Educating and warning workers about the dangers of airborne dust will undoubtedly save lives, so credit should be given to everyone behind launching this much needed campaign.”
B&CE, the construction industry benefits insurance specialist, welcomed the new silica register. Gregg McClymont, the director of policy at B&CE, said: “As an organisation with strong roots in the construction industry, we welcome Unite’s establishment of a silica register. Diseases such as silicosis blight the lives of a significant number of workers, which is why last month we helped launch an inquiry with the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on respiratory health. Any work to tackle the impact silica has on workers will have a positive impact.”
The silica exposure register can be found at www.unitelegalservices.org/services/silica-dust