Exposure to respirable crystalline silica


Article by Ms. Florence Lumen and Mr. Andy Price (NEPSI) included in EDI Special Publication 2020

The NEPSI Social Dialogue Agreement in the context of new EU workplace legislation and a case study of the good practice implementation.

Crystalline silica is a component of many extracted materials and these materials are used in a full range of downstream applications.

Long term exposure to concentrations of respirable crystalline silica (RCS) dust higher than legal limits can cause the lung disease silicosis and an increased risk of lung cancer.

Exposure to RCS can however be managed safely, through efficient work practices that mitigate any risk.

The European Network on Silica, NEPSI, signed in 2006 the social dialogue agreement on “Workers’ Health  Protection Through the Good Handling and Use of Crystalline Silica and Products Containing it”, in short the NEPSI Agreement.

In 2018, works involving exposure to RCS, generated by a work process were included in the European Carcinogens and Mutagens at Work Directive (Directive 2017/2398) with a Binding Occupational Exposure Limit Value of 0.1 mg/m³.

The European Commission recognises that NEPSI good practices are valuable and necessary instruments to complement regulatory measures and in particular to support the effective implementation of limit values (Recital 19 of Directive 2017/2398).

“It is the quality of implementation of the good practices that determines whether lives are saved” declared Commissioner Mrs Marianne Thyssen at the 10th Anniversary of NEPSI.

NEPSI signatories are committed to continue implementing their measures to safely manage RCS, and ensure full compliance with the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive and all local regulations.

In her presentation at the DDR Forum & Expo 2017, organized by the European Demolition Association and in partnership with the European Decontamination Institute, Mrs Lumen highlighted the benefits that such RCS exposure prevention could bring to the construction sector including during demolition and recycling activities.

There is a clear need for better risk awareness and training on respirable crystalline silice exposure in the construction industry and simple and tailor made task sheets like the ones of the NEPSI good practice guide are available and could be very useful for the workers of this sector, while helping to comply with the legislation in place.

Andy Price, Chair of the NEPSI Technical Committee and working for Sibelco , a global producer of minerals including silica, presented a case study on successful implementation of NEPSI good practices in his company though the project Real-time monitoring and the”No Dust” Teams.

Committed to reducing exposure of its staff to airborne dust, including respirable crystalline silica, Sibelco found a new way of identifying individual sources of airborne dust generation to be able to prioritise improvements and the NEPSI good practices they must put in place.

A multidisciplinary team of experts – Health, Safety and Engineering specialists – developed a concept in which real-time dust level measurements are combined with video recording of the activity or process being carried out. The new technology makes dust exposure visible.

The equipment – a hand-held monitor and miniature head camera – has been very popular with the workforce, positively influencing worker’s behaviour and their personal involvement in Sibelco’s dust improvement efforts.

This innovative and affordable technology is now being used throughout Sibelco to assist site-based “No Dust” team in their dust improvement projects.

In conclusion, NEPSI is still going strong after 13 years and its future is assured thanks to the commitment of its signatories and of the European Commission and related institutions. The industries involved constantly seek for innovative solutions and improvements because the protection of workers’ health is, and always will be, our common primary concern.