HSE Priority – Occupational Lung Disease

The HSE has announced that as part of their strategic priorities 15-20, the priority for the year 18/19 will be reducing the levels of occupational lung disease.

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Written by: alcumus
29th June

The priority for 2018/19 is to deliver the next phase of the Health and Work programme, which will focus on reducing levels of occupational lung disease.

Occupational lung disease causes around 90% of work-related deaths and continues to lead to an estimated 13,000 deaths each year.

Occupational lung disease includes a wide range of conditions from those that develop shortly after exposure (e.g. legionella infections, work-related asthma) to those that develop many years later, such as pneumoconiosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma, which are life-limiting and/or life-altering.

Occupational lung disease occurs in most industry sectors and is caused by a wide range of agents from biological organisms through to dusts, fumes and vapours, with asbestos and respirable crystalline silica being particularly substantial contributors to the burden of lung disease.

Construction workers are at high risk of contracting lung disease from the work that they do. Every year, approximately 3,500 will die from cancer caused by past exposures to asbestos, 500 more from silica dust, another 5,500 will be diagnosed with occupational cancer, and today alone an unknown but significant number will breathe in the hazardous substances that will one day seriously affect their health or even lead to their death.

Recent research indicates that up to 50% of all Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) used does not offer the wearer the level of protection assumed, and one of the major reasons is that it simply does not fit. Yet, under the regulations RPE must be correctly selected and this includes, for many types of RPE, a face piece Fit Test conducted by a competent person. So how can you be sure the person conducting the fit test is competent?

In view of these major concerns the HSE and other industry stakeholders have developed a competency scheme for Fit Test Providers. The Fit2Fit RPE Fit Test Providers Accreditation Scheme is designed to confirm the competency of any person performing face piece fit testing. Following this scheme is not compulsory and employers are free to take other action to comply with the law. But if you follow this scheme, you will be doing enough to demonstrate good practice.

There are sound legal, economic and moral reasons for looking after the health, safety and welfare of employees. If it is done well, the company meets its legal duties and avoids unnecessary ill health, accidents, additional costs, penalties and damage to the company’s reputation.

The main pieces of statutory legislation which apply to occupational health include the following (this list is not exhaustive):

The Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974, (HASAWA) which places responsibilities on both the employer and the employee with regards to health and safety;

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 which require employers to:

  • undertake risk assessment, and implement measures to control risks to health;
  • provide information and training to staff on hazards and controls;
  • appoint competent persons to help them assess and control risks (this includes access to competent occupational health and other healthcare practitioners);
  • undertake health surveillance, where indicated by risk assessment

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH).

  • finding out what the health hazards are;
  • undertake risk assessment, and implement measures to control risks to health;
  • providing control measures to reduce harm to health;
  • making sure they are used ;
  • keeping all control measures in good working order;
  • providing information, instruction and training for employees;
  • providing monitoring and health surveillance in appropriate cases;
  • planning for emergencies.

Good management of occupational health and safety generally reflects a well-run business and to everyone’s benefit.

How Alcumus can help

Many organisations do not have the resource to keep abreast of health and safety legislation.  Here at Alcumus we provide occupational hygiene advice and support to businesses of all sizes and types. We also carry out monitoring surveys to look at exposures within the workplace for dusts (and any other contaminants).  We can also undertake COSHH assessments.    With qualified consultants and technical competence behind us, Alcumus can help fulfil the duty of care you have to your employees.
Gary Broadley CMIOSH TIFireE OSCHR
Senior Health & Safety Consultant