HSE issues health warning to stone industry workers

The Health and Safety Executive is urging the stone industry to do more to protect workers' health after inspections in the South of England.

Paving. Image: MorgueFile
HSE inspectors visited sixty stone businesses, including work surface manufacturers, stonemasons and monumental masons in the South of England between June and September.

Four key concerns were raised, particularly around the poor control of respirable crystalline silica (RCS), a hazardous dust which can damage health and is abundant at landscape construction sites, being found in materials including soil, stone dust and concrete.

Other concerns included handling and storage of stone, poor machinery guarding, and the explosion risk from air compressors.

Although many of the sites visited were attempting to manage their health and safety, serious breaches were found at over half (35) of the premises that were visited. HSE issued four Prohibition Notices, 54 Improvement Notices and provided verbal advice to others.

A number of businesses were unaware that in 2006 the workplace exposure limit for RCS was revised from 0.3 mg/m3 to 0.1mg/m3 thereby requiring them to devise more stringent controls.

Key issues included dry sweeping which can put fine breathable stone dust back into the workplace air, as well as inadequate face masks and extraction systems.

HSE inspector Tahir Mortuza, who led on the initiative, said: "HSE intends to visit more stone work businesses in the future to ensure that health and safety is adequately managed. Business owners should review their processes and the materials they use whilst thinking about what might cause harm and whether they are doing enough to protect workers.

"Once the risks have been identified, businesses need to decide how best to control them so they can put the appropriate measures in place. A good starting point is to look at respirable crystalline silica, as it is one of the greatest risks for businesses engaged in stonework, as found in this inspection campaign."

Guidance on working with stone is available on HSE's website.

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