Apprentices should learn about silicosis, say MPs in new report

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A cross-party group of MPs has said construction apprentices must learn about the risks of inhaling silica as part of their syllabus, one of ten priorities aimed at preventing silicosis.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for respiratory health says there have been ‘significant developments’ both in technology and understanding of how respiratory diseases can be prevented and treated since its last report in 2020.

“The lessons learned during the pandemic must serve to transform the diagnosis, treatment and management of respiratory diseases and ensure silicosis has a place in prevention policies,” says the foreword.

RCS is the most toxic form when it is freshly ‘fractured’ through processes such as stonecutting, drilling and polishing. Photograph: ARCO

The report calls on HSE to ‘urgently’ look into real time monitoring of dust particulates and to consult the industry on using the technology more widely.

Occupational histories should be shared with GPs to enable early detection, it says. Further, silicosis should be made a notifiable disease with the NHS and industry regulations to help doctors.

The construction sector employs around 1.36 million people. Industry representatives told APPG that ‘many’ of this cohort could be exposed to deadly Respirable crystalline silica (RCS), but the precise number is unclear.

“Under-reporting, the fragmented nature of the industry and poor diagnostic ability are all contributing factors,” said the report.

Silicosis is the most common chronic occupational lung disease worldwide. It is a progressive, degenerative clinical respiratory condition which causes crippling health conditions and can lead to death.

RCS is the most toxic form when it is freshly ‘fractured’ through processes such as stonecutting, drilling and polishing and it becomes a fine enough dust to reach deep inside the lungs when inhaled.

Kevin Williams, Respiratory Manager at Arco, which contributed to the report, said: “We all know that respiratory illness can cause serious health problems, disability and even death to those exposed unnecessarily to risks, such as silica dust. We also know that these risks are often preventable. We urge the government to act on the findings.”

Improving Silicosis Outcomes in the UK report here:




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