Silicosis 'Epidemic' Looms Among UK Tradespeople Working with Engineered Stone

Up to 10 cases of silicosis linked to engineered stone quartz have been identified in the UK, with three cases reported last year. The industry is urged to prioritize safe cutting practices and dust control measures to protect workers from this preventable lung disease.

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Bijay Laxmi
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Silicosis 'Epidemic' Looms Among UK Tradespeople Working with Engineered Stone

Silicosis 'Epidemic' Looms Among UK Tradespeople Working with Engineered Stone

Lawyers and doctors in the United Kingdom are sounding the alarm over a potential silicosis "epidemic" among tradespeople who work with engineered stone quartz, a popular material used in modern kitchen worktops. Up to 10 cases of silicosis linked to artificial stone have been identified in the UK in recent months, with three cases logged last year to the surveillance scheme SWORD. This development follows similar outbreaks in Australia, where the material has been banned, and California, where 10 workers have died and 52 have been diagnosed with silicosis due to workplace exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS).

Why this matters: The potential silicosis epidemic among UK tradespeople highlights the need for stricter regulations and safety protocols in the industry to protect workers from preventable diseases. If left unchecked, this could lead to a significant rise in silicosis cases, resulting in devastating health consequences and economic burdens on the healthcare system.

Daniel Easton, a partner with Leigh Day representing the first UK patients diagnosed with silicosis, warns that the UK may be "sitting on an epidemic of silicosis that's going to become a major issue over the next couple of years." Dr. Carl Reynolds, a respiratory consultant at Imperial College London, calls for a ban on artificial stone to protect workers, stating that "we have what is an entirely preventable disease... and it's an awful disease. The prognosis is very poor."

The Worktop Fabricators Federation, a trade body for firms involved in the manufacture and fitting of stone worktops in the UK, is hoping to study data on silicosis cases to understand what controls were in place. Andy Phillips, a director of the federation, emphasizes the importance of safe cutting practices, including wet cutting and monitoring dust levels, rather than a blanket ban on engineered stone.

The popularity of quartz kitchen surfaces has increased significantly in recent years, making it the UK's most popular worktop material. Specialist water cutting techniques can suppress the spread of dust during manufacturing, but dry cutting can leave workers exposed to harmful amounts of silica dust.

With the growing number of silicosis cases among tradespeople working with engineered stone quartz, the UK faces a potential health crisis. As the popularity of this material continues to rise, it is crucial for the industry to prioritize safe cutting practices and dust control measures to protect workers from this preventable lung disease.

Key Takeaways

  • Up to 10 UK cases of silicosis linked to engineered stone quartz identified in recent months.
  • Similar outbreaks occurred in Australia and California, with 10 deaths and 52 diagnoses.
  • Stricter regulations and safety protocols are needed to protect workers from silicosis.
  • Safe cutting practices, like wet cutting, can reduce silica dust exposure.
  • Industry must prioritize worker safety as quartz kitchen surfaces continue to rise in popularity.