Latest Health & Safety Executive Reveal the Prevalence of Occupational Lung Disease in Great Britain

The latest Health & Safety Executive (HSE) statistics reveal that 12,000 deaths were reported as a result of lung disease from past exposures at work. Annually, there are an estimated 19,000 new cases of lung or breathing problems believed to be caused or made worse by the working environment. 

There are a wide range of substances in the workplace that have the potential to cause harm to health if ingested, inhaled, or in contact with skin, often leading to irreversible respiratory diseases, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. For example, dust in the workplace continues to receive national attention as a hidden killer. Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations (COSHH), the levels of inhalable dust in the workplace should not exceed 10mg/m3 and the level of respirable dust must not exceed 4 mg/m3. Employers are advised to control levels constantly to ensure such maximums are never reached.    

From the thousands of substances that can be found within a working environment, around 500 are given specific limits, under Workplace Exposure Limits regulations, commonly referred to as WELs.  For example, cobalt metal has an exposure limit of 0.1 mg/m3 and silica is 0.1 mg/m3, meaning workers can only be exposed to a small amount before the substance potentially becomes hazardous to health. If such substances are identified in the working environment, employers must be familiar with the relevant exposure limit figures.

Personal monitoring in the form of personal dust sampling pumps is the preferred method to measure dust exposure levels in the workplace, allowing employers to remain compliant to government standards of safety with a completely accurate record of individual exposure levels.  

Personal sampling pumps offer a more enhanced monitoring system able to provide data records all the time.  Data can be collected throughout seasonal and weather changes – in the summer months, there may be better ventilation, where windows might be open, as opposed to winter months where lower ventilation can make for a dustier environment.  Based on the findings, further practices to dust control can be modified. Workers may be required to wear additional respiratory protective equipment, or the location may need to be fitted with ventilation systems.  When new processes are introduced including new machinery and ventilation equipment systems the sampling pumps enable tests to ensure exposure limits are kept to a minimum. Ultimately, this allows workforces to become more engaged, with more insight than ever before on the steps being taken to measure and improve their health in the workplace.   

As the latest HSE statistics show that occupational lung disease continues to be an issue impacting the lives of workers in Great Britain, Casella urges businesses to put measures in place to protect employees from hazardous exposure.