Stone Cutting On The HSE’s Radar

When working with stone, one of the health risks is a fine dust known as respirable crystalline silica (RCS).  RCS is drawn deep into the lungs where it can cause lung diseases including silicosis (inflammation and scarring of the lungs), cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Silica is one of the HSE’s top priorities as it is produced not only during stone work but also through activities such as cutting blocks, bricks and tiles.

It now seems that inspectors are extending their reach to the stone industry including those who manufacture work surfaces and stone and monumental masons.  During 2015, when inspectors visited 60 businesses in the South of England they examined whether firms had effective silica dust controls amongst other areas of health and safety management.  Unfortunately, the inspectors revealed poor standards and serious breaches were found at more than half of the premises inspected (35 out of 60).  The HSE issued four prohibition notices (which meant work had to be stopped immediately) and 54 improvement notices issued.

The HSE identified 4 common areas which the industry focus on:-

–       Silica dust.

–       The handling of storage of stone.

–       Machinery guarding, and

–       The maintenance of air compressors.

If you are in the stone industry and you have not addressed the silica dust issues, now is the time to do so.

Your arrangements should include:-

–       Dust extraction or suppression.

–       Vacuuming and wet cleaning methods rather than brushing up.

–       Issuing good quality respiratory protection and checking that it fits correctly.

–       Health surveillance.

Falling slabs are also a well-known cause of fatal accidents.  Review your methods of handling and storing stone slab and check they are not at risk of toppling onto staff when being moved, loaded, unloaded or stored in racks.

Obviously there are many safety hazards in stone masonry businesses, guarding machinery is the most important.  Once you have determined that your guarding is suitable, carry out daily checks and ensure it remains in place and not tampered with.

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