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Health surveillance in silica exposed workers

There is uncertainty in Great Britain (GB) about what constitutes appropriate health surveillance for silica-exposed workers, despite evidence that new cases of silicosis are occurring. The latter is supported by data from UK-based, HSE funded, national surveillance systems for work-related illness. There is also evidence to suggest that the risk of silicosis is finite at current permissible exposure levels.

Many of the industries in GB in which exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) may arise have signed up to a Social Dialogue Agreement (SDA), a pan-European initiative to improve the control of silica dust exposure. In part, this agreement is a commitment to undertake health surveillance where this is necessary because of a potential continuing risk of silicosis, even when recommended engineering and other controls are in place. The appropriate target population for this surveillance would likely include all workers who are exposed to levels of crystalline silica that place them at risk of developing silicosis or other silica-related lung diseases.

Consequently, the GB regulator wishes to establish a standard for the health surveillance of silica-exposed workers, in order to assess whether dutyholders are complying with their duties under appropriate legislation.

This report and the work it describes were funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its contents, including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect HSE policy.

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Updated 2010-12-16