Silicosis warning on stone kitchen worktops
The TUC has warned that the current global trend for stone worktops in kitchens is putting the lungs of workers around the world at risk of deadly silicosis and lung cancer.
Writing in the TUC Stronger Unions blog, Hugh Robertson, the union’s Head of Health and Safety, recently warned that “stone” worktops in kitchens have become very fashionable in Britain, yet many people are unaware of the risks of such work.
Robertson says he was made aware of the problem last month when he met with a lung consultant, who mentioned that half of all lung transplants in Israel are due to work with engineered stone.
Indeed, almost all of the “stone”, “quartz” or “marble” kitchen worktops and tiles that are becoming popular are in fact “engineered”, which means they are made from pieces of ground stone and resin.
When engineered stone is being made and worked on, it produces very small silica particles. Workers who inhale these are at risk of silicosis — an incurable, progressively disabling and sometimes fatal lung disease — as well as lung cancer.
In the UK, Hugh Robertson says thousands of kitchen installers saw, drill or grind slabs of this engineered stone as part of finishing and installing worktops. He warns there are even greater exposures in the manufacture of the slabs, where workers are using materials that can contain over 90% silica.
Outbreaks of disabling silicosis have been reported in Israel, Spain and Australia but, according to Robertson, China and India are the biggest producers where figures on the workers affected are not available.
He added, “Nor do we know the number of people being exposed in the UK … given the rising popularity of this material, we face a new wave of workers’ lungs being destroyed by silica unless action is taken now to ensure that workers are made aware of the risks and proper precautions taken.”