What is Crystalline silica?
Silica is the name given to a group of minerals composed of silicon and oxygen, the two most abundant elements in the earth’s crust. In spite of its simple chemical formula, SiO2, silica exists in many different forms. Silica is found commonly in the crystalline state but occurs also in an amorphous (non-crystalline) state. Crystalline silica is hard, chemically inert and has a high melting point. These are prized qualities in various industrial uses.
Respirable crystalline silica (RCS)
Respirable crystalline silica is created when things containing Crystalline Silica are broken down and released. This can happen during processes such as drilling, sawing, cutting, grinding, laying ballast or even sweeping up after a task has been performed. RCS can penetrate deep into the lungs, and the body’s natural defence mechanisms to eliminate the respirable dust inhaled do not work. Over time this causes significant scaring to the lungs and can lead to both Silicosis and lung Cancer.
Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs)
The Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations 2016 are concerned with protecting those at work from the risks associated with Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs).
EMFs are present in all workplaces and homes due to ordinary electrical equipment. However, dangers can arise from equipment or activities producing high levels of exposure, causing health effects such as heating effects in the body, burns or effects on the central nervous system.
Some type of equipment such as MRI scanners and powerful electromagnets can produce what are called indirect effects for example where danger is caused by a flying metallic object dragged into the magnetic field
Equipment which can cause risks
Some types of equipment such as MRI scanners and powerful electromagnets can produce what is called indirect effects where danger is caused by a flying metallic object dragged into the magnetic field.
Employees at particular risk
Some people can be more vulnerable to electromagnetic fields than others. Examples are those wearing or fitted with medical devices such as heart pacemakers or similar devices, or those who are pregnant. You should always tell your employer if you think you are at increased risk.
Some types of work can put employees at particular risk such as work with explosives and flammable materials. In some cases fires or explosions can be triggered by EMFs and special precautions are needed.
Exposure Limit Values & Action Levels
The Regulations lay down Exposure Limit Values and Action Levels:
• An Exposure Limit Value relates to a health effect (such as burns, effects on the nervous system, electric shocks or heating body tissue) or a sensory effect (such as nausea, vertigo, or a metallic taste in the mouth). Sensory effect ELVs an be exceeded if the employer takes action to safeguard employees and has an action plan to reduce effects. ELVs are difficult to measure.
• Action Levels relate to quantities that can be more easily measured or obtained from manufacturers. Some types of Action Level can be used to demonstrate that ELVs are not exceeded. Other types relate to indirect effects such as a ferrous metal object being dragged into a magnetic field causing danger to anyone in the way.
The regulations also require employers to:
• undertake an exposure assessment relating to the work of their employees; this may be very simple and can use HSE guidance and indicate that little or no further action is needed
• if the exposure assessment indicates that ELV’s are likely to be exceeded, indirect ALs are exceeded or there are employees at particular risk, a risk assessment is required to be undertaken by the employer
• take action to reduce the risk to employees and control the exposure below the ELVs (except in certain circumstances where only sensory effect ELVs are exceeded and other precautions, listed in the Regulations, are taken)
• where necessary, the employer must take steps to eliminate or minimise the risks, to provide information and training to employees and to provide health surveillance for employees who report sensory effects.
What you should do
In order to minimise any risks to yourself or other workers you should:
• make sure you tell your employer if you are at particular risk due to having a medical implant or body worn device which could make you more vulnerable to EMF, or if you are pregnant
• be familiar with the exposure assessment and any risk assessment for EMFs which relates to your work
• follow the procedures and training you have been given in order to minimise risks to yourself and others
• report any sensory effects to your employer and attend health surveillance.
Legislation and resources
• The Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations 2016
• HSG 281 HSE Guide to the Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations 2016
Dust is a general term for particles of any substance that become suspended in the air. Sometimes the particles are so small they are not visible to the naked eye
Dangers of dust:
• any dust can be dangerous if its particles are small enough to stay suspended in the air.
• certain dusts cause serious health problems even at low levels (eg some wood dusts may cause cancer) – the HSE’s EH40 document gives exposure limits for general and specific dusts.
• dusts can form explosive mixtures in air, eg flour, so it is important to prevent dust building up and to control ignition sources such as electrical equipment
Ways of controlling dust:
• the Workplace (Health Safety and Welfare) Regulations require effective and suitable ventilation.
• design and maintenance of ventilation is crucial to how well it works.
• ventilation may be either general room/space ventilation system or a local exhaust ventilation (LEV) targeted at problem areas/processes.
• where dust cannot be adequately controlled by other means then personal protective equipment (PPE) can be necessary, eg respirators, breathing apparatus and eye protection.
• good housekeeping and cleaning are needed, particularly vacuum cleaning, but this is often not enough on its own – other dust controls are usually needed, eg ventilation.
• dusts should never be cleaned using brushes, brooms etc. as this makes the dust airborne – special vacuum cleaners with high efficiency filters are needed.
• COSHH risk assessments are needed to analyse hazards of specific dusts and dusty processes and identify the best controls.
Legislation and resources
• Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
• Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992
• Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002
• HSE: EH40/2005 Workplace Exposure Limits.