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12th July 2019

Company Fined £20,000 After Employees Exposed To Respirable Crystalline Silica


As we mentioned in our recent blog post, the HSE continue to view exposure to dust as a top priority. This recent case highlights the ramifications for those companies that fail to manage their obligations.

What’s the Problem with Silica?

Silica is a natural substance found in most rocks, sand and clay and in products such as bricks and concrete. In the workplace these materials create dust when they are cut or sanded down etc. Some of this dust may be fine enough to reach deep inside the lung, this is known as respirable crystalline silica (RCS) and can cause harm to health. Significant exposure to RCS can cause silicosis and lung cancer.

What’s happened?

A playground installation and landscaping contractor has recently been fined after failing to provide employees with adequate control measures to prevent exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) during cutting activities on site, and for also ignoring an Improvement Notice.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) carried out an unannounced inspection of a site at Newbank Garden Centre, Bury Road, Radcliffe. The HSE inspector identified problems with the method of works and decided to serve a Prohibition Notice to stop two employees of Playscape Design Ltd, using a powered tool to cut paving flags without any form of dust suppression or respiratory protective equipment. This obviously put the health of the employees at risk due to exposure to RCS, which is released when silica-containing materials are cut with a powered tool.

The HSE Inspector also issued the company with an Improvement Notice, requiring the business to improve its current arrangements to prevent employee exposure to RCS. The investigation found the company did not provide evidence of compliance within the deadline set by the HSE and that in fact a second, similar job was completed at the same site with no adequate control measures in place! The HSE subsequently decided they needed to prosecute this company to get the message though to them.

In Court

Playscape Design Limited appeared at Greater Manchester Magistrates Court and pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 7(1) of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 and also admitted not complying with an Improvement Notice, which is an offence under Section 33(1)(g) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3,000.

The HSE inspector involved in the case, said after the hearing: “The working conditions we encountered were putting the health of the employees at risk due to exposure to RCS, which is released when silica-containing materials are cut with a powered tool.

“Exposure to respirable crystalline silica can cause life-threatening diseases including silicosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), which can lead to impaired lung function, lung cancer and death. This incident could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices.

“Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards”

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