Workers who believe they have been exposed to silica dust are being urged to sign a register that will help them with legal cases if they develop a long-term health condition.
Unite said signing its register could provide evidence if an employee takes legal action as a result of being diagnosed with a disease caused by respirable crystalline silica.
Silica dust exposure
Inhaling large volumes of the dust over a long period can cause silicosis – a serious respiratory condition that can lead to potentially fatal illnesses including lung cancer, tuberculosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The dust is created when cutting, grinding, drilling or polishing materials including rocks, sand, bricks and concrete. Workers in industries including mining, quarrying, construction, glass manufacturing and stonemasonry could be exposed to the dust over long periods of time, which could put their health at risk if dust suppression measures or personal protective equipment is not used.
The union said using the register would help identify when and where workers were exposed, as the symptoms of silicosis could take many years to develop.
Unite national health and safety adviser Bud Hudspith said: “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.”
Several MPs were gathering evidence around the impact that silicosis has on construction workers. The group intended to put forward recommendations for prevention, treatment and management of the disease to the government later this year.
Gregg McClymont, director of policy at construction industry body B&CE, welcomed the establishment of the 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 on Respiratory Health. Any work to tackle the impact silica has on workers will have a positive impact.”