Dust level limits must be reduced to protect workplace health

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date: 1 September 2011

embargo: 00.01hrs Friday 2 September 2011

The TUC is calling today (Friday) for urgent action to reduce dust levels in the workplace, a hazard which is responsible for thousands of deaths in the UK every year.

In new guidance which is being sent out to all union safety reps, the TUC outlines the case for stronger action against dust and shows that the current standards used for the assessment of dust exposure in the workplace are totally inadequate.

The TUC publication says that there is now clear scientific evidence which suggests that the current UK limits for inhalable and respirable dust should be much lower. It cites research showing that a considerable number of the cases of cancer and lung diseases caused by dusts come from exposure that is well below the current legal limit.

This view is supported by the Institute of Medicine (IoM), an independent, non-profit organisation that works outside of government to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to decision-makers and the public. The IOM has said that 'the current British occupational exposure limits for airborne dust are unsafe and employers should attempt to reduce exposures to help prevent further cases of respiratory disease amongst their workers'.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Because disease and death caused by the various types of dust can take many years to develop, both employers and regulators take them far less seriously than deaths caused by injury, yet they are just as tragic for both the workers and their families.

'Each and every one of these thousands of deaths caused by dusts is avoidable. Given the scale of the problem we need an urgent examination of both the current standards and their enforcement.'

The TUC has looked at a range of dusts that are often found in the workplace, including silica, coal dust, talc and kaolin, and shown that even at current legal levels, a significant number of workers could be developing significant reductions in their lung function with profound results for future health.

As a result the TUC is seeking an urgent review of the legal standards as well as greater enforcement of existing ones. In the meantime it believes that employers and unions should agree lower industry-wide standards to protect workers.

NOTES TO EDITORS:

- Dust in the Workplace is available at http://www.tuc.org.uk/tucfiles/69/DUSTintheWorkplace.doc

- Congress 2011 will be held at the TUC's Congress House in central London this year. The event runs over three days, from Monday 12 to Wednesday 14 September. Free media passes can be obtained by visiting www.tuc.org.uk/the_tuc/tuc-19831-f0.cfm and filling in the online form. All applications for media passes must be received no later than noon on Monday 5 September. Any applications received after then will be processed when possible and may be subject to delay. Late applications will be subject to a £50 administration fee. Wi-fi will be available free of charge throughout the venue.

Contacts:

Media enquiries:
Liz Chinchen T: 020 7467 1248 M: 07778 158175 E: media@tuc.org.uk
Rob Holdsworth T: 020 7467 1372 M: 07717 531150 E: rholdsworth@tuc.org.uk
Elly Gibson T: 020 7467 1337 M: 07900 910624 E: egibson@tuc.org.uk

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