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RR1142 - Assessment of exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) and benchmarking of exposure controls during manual splitting and dressing of slate

Respirable crystalline silica (RCS) is a substantial contributor to the burden of occupational lung disease. Exposure can cause silicosis, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Quarry workers carrying out manual slate splitting and dressing are potentially exposed and the health risks can be significant if effective exposure control measures are not in place. At present, four GB companies employ workers to do these tasks.

This report describes research to assess levels of exposure to RCS in manual slate splitting and dressing and the effectiveness of current exposure control measures. The aim was to identify benchmarks for good control practice, and to provide evidence to inform the planned update of HSE guidance for industry. The researchers measured exposure and assessed exposure control at two quarries. They found that some ancillary tasks to the slate splitting process were sources of exposure to RCS for which no controls were applied and that HSE’s guidance could be improved by including these tasks and providing clearer illustrations of recommended controls. The researchers also reviewed the scientific literature. They identified studies conducted in Wales and in Norway which highlight potential worker respiratory health issues.

HSE’s updated guidance, informed by the findings of this research, was published in October 2019. This guidance is COSHH essentials for stone workers: Silica ‘ST6: Slate Splitting Manual’ and ‘ST7 Dressing slate (edge bevelling)’.

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Updated 2020-01-07