On Monday of this week, Unite the Union launched an online register for workers (aimed at those employed in the mining, quarrying, foundries, potteries, ceramics, glass manufacturing, stonemasonry, construction and silica flour industries) to document their exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS).[i]
The driving force behind the implementation of this scheme was a group of Unite members employed by the UK’s largest domestic cable manufacturer, Prysmian Cables, but union-based intervention cannot be regarded as unforeseeable.
In edition 256 of BC Disease News (here), we envisaged that wide-scale silica monitoring could soon be adopted across the UK, after reports surfaced that the Minister for Industrial Relations in Queensland, Australia, was seeking to amend State Law to create a Notifiable Dust Lung Disease Register in appreciation of the risk that RCS, in particular, poses.
Michael Hobbs, Senior Steward at Prysmian’s Head Office (Hampshire), described the threat of RCS exposure as a ‘millstone round the necks of workers’ and thus considers the Register to be ‘long overdue’.
Excessive, unprotected inhalation of silica dust in the course of employment can cause long-term damage, including silicosis, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
As a result, Unite’s National Health and Safety Advisor, Bud Hudspith, has endorsed the Register as an ‘important step’ in the process of documenting evidence in support of potential civil claims, should delayed-onset personal injury arise long after exposure ceases.
Affected workers can join the Register by completing the Unite Legal Services Silica Dust Questionnaire and recording details of where and when exposure to silica dust occurred, as well as details of any RCS-associated illnesses that have been diagnosed by a clinician (if applicable).
Questionnaire responses are auto-populated on the database-formatted Register, which allows panel law firms to collect information and predict claims trends. One such firm is industrial disease specialist, Thompsons Solicitors, which is also responsible for assisting Unite with day-to-day maintenance of the Register.
Over the coming months, we will continue to observe the progress of the ‘silicosis in construction’ inquiry, unveiled in edition 280 (here).
Will the Government be persuaded to take further action (complimenting action already taken by Unite) once the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Respiratory Health submits the responses to the inquiry later this year?
[i] ‘Unite launches silica register to protect workers whose health could be damaged by dust inhalation’ (5 August 2019 Unite the Union) <https://unitetheunion.org/news-events/news/2019/august/unite-launches-silica-register-to-protect-workers-whose-health-could-be-damaged-by-dust-inhalation/> accessed 6 August 2019.