Peter Aspinall, Principal Occupational Hygienist for WSP in Australia, acknowledges that if we can prevent silica dust exposure to our workers, the issue becomes irrelevant. He says, “Control of the exposure source is the best point to start when attempting to strategically minimise the hazard. However, the problem exists in the materials that we use to construct even the most basic infrastructure projects. Bricks and mortar have been used for centuries, so completely eradicating these materials from our workplace and home in the short term is unlikely.”
Education is Key
Recently, we’ve seen significant changes in the health and safety space, including the dramatic shift in the importance of worker health awareness and safety.
“When it comes to occupational health and hygiene, we want the industry to see the benefits of becoming more proactive rather than reactive – that’s where we can add real value to our clients’ projects,” adds Peter.
How can we encourage workplaces to be more proactive? From the late eighties through to the mid-nineties there was a major international push to educate the industry around the dangers of respirable silica dust. Much of the research came from the USA, with China, the UK, Canada and South Africa also supporting the cause.
Peter says, “There are some easy preventative solutions available to curb the onset of silicosis. Engineering and safety in design processes can reduce the need for cutting or drilling into silica materials. What’s more, materials can be installed pre-cut and built offsite to minimise silica generation in the workplace.”
“Wet-cutting, proper extraction (H Class) ventilation systems and personal respirators are effective, but should not be undertaken without education to control the level of worker exposures. These precautionary steps can and should be taken on all projects no matter their size. When it comes to health safety, all measures should be applied.”
WSP works with our clients to set comprehensive workplace safety standards on all projects, for the benefit of the communities in which we operate. Essentially, we provide control over all aspects of the project hierarchy from the option to eliminate or provide engineering controls for a source right through to the management of the personal exposures.
“If you look at how far we have come against other respirable hazards such as asbestos, you see what we can achieve with silica dust. We can help reduce the risk and ensure our clients and communities remain safe at all times.”
Across the world, WSP is helping our clients manage the safety and exposure risks to its workers.