THE HSE has recently finished consulting on a proposal to amend the Work Exposure Limits under the Coshh (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) Regulations.
The proposal recommended a reduction from the current limit of 0.3 mg/cu m for respirable crystalline silica to a new limit of 0.1 mg/cu m (measured as an eight-hour, time-weighted average).
The HSE's rationale is that particles of crystalline silica are harmful to the lungs. In particular, long-term exposure to high levels of crystalline silica in respirable form can cause the lung disease silicosis, which in turn can cause breathing problems. Severe cases can be disabling and lead to death.
Cutting the exposure levels will reduce the risk of contracting silicosis from 20 per cent to 2.5 per cent. Exposure to RCS can also cause an increased risk of lung cancer. Risks are incurred not just via inhalation but also absorption through the skin, ingestion and contact with the eyes.
According to the HSE, the majority of respondents to this consultation agreed with the proposal.
As a result of the consultation, the HSE has now proposed this new limit of 0.1 mg/ cu m to the Advisory Committee on Toxic Substances. If agreed by the committee, the proposal will go to the Health & Safety Commission. The final decision on any new exposure level will be taken by the HSC, not the HSE. If the proposed new level is agreed, it will come into effect in October 2006.
According to the HSE, a new limit will be accompanied by practical advice on how to control exposure to RCS in the workplace.
An enforcement initiative is also planned to target the high-risk industry sectors beginning this year with stonemasons, to be followed later by brickmakers and quarry workers.