Controlling exposures to prevent occupational lung disease in the construction industry
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Breathe Freely initiative launches to a packed audience, gets off to a tremendous start!
Press release: 1st May 2015
The latest respiratory-related construction industry research is made available in a special virtual issue of the ‘Annals of Occupational Hygiene’ in support of the Breathe Freely launch
12th May 2015
Kelvin Williams Offers Advice on preventing lung disease in construction workers at British Safety Council seminar in Cardiff on 20 May
BOHS backs Mates in Mind on tackling mental health together to save lives
Press release: 13th September 2016
BOHS, the Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection, has announced its backing of Mates in Mind – a new programme launched by the Health in Construction Leadership Group and supported by the British Safety Council to help improve and promote positive mental health across the construction industry in the UK.
BOHS backs Mates in Mind on tackling mental health together to save lives
BOHS launches new HI Standard self-assessment tool for construction in a bid to help managers raise the bar on health
Press release: 27th April 2016
BOHS, the Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection, has launched a new version of its Health in Industry (HI) Management Standard, designed to set out exactly what “good” looks like in managing workplace health risks, with the latest edition of the tool now offering a unique level of support for managers and their organisations.
In April 2015, BOHS launched Breathe Freely, a collaborative initiative primarily aimed at tackling the incidence of occupational lung disease in the construction industry.
The goal of Breathe Freely is to raise awareness of the problem but more importantly, provide real solutions.
Interview with Tracey Boyle,
President of the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) - ahead of her Breathe Freely talk at BOHS’ Worker Health Protection Conference in Abu Dhabi this September.
The Breathe Freely initiative is now in its second year, having been launched by BOHS, the Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection, in April 2015 in order to the tackle the enormous challenge of occupational lung disease in the construction industry.
In the UK, people are often surprised to discover that construction workers in the UK are at least 100 times more likely to die from an occupational disease than from an accident at work. What’s equally shocking is that the vast majority of these deaths are due to cases of work-related lung disease or cancer, largely caused by workers having breathed in dangerous chemicals and dusts at work in the past.
Globally, work-related diseases claim an estimated 2 million lives each year and so we have little reason to hope that these challenges are less daunting elsewhere in the world.
BOHS is pleased to be working in collaboration with IOSH and HSE on an initiative to highlight the hazards of respirable crystalline silica. Crystalline silica is estimated to be the second biggest work-related cancer and causes the deaths of around 800 people each year.
The initiative features ‘Spotlight on Silica’ presentations and will be launched at the IOSH Midland Branch meeting on 2nd June 2016. The content of the talks will include:
This initiative ties in very closely with BOHS’ current campaign, Breathe Freely, which offers a wide range of free resources to help construction managers to protect workers from silica and other hazards. These resources include: the Construction Manager’s Toolkit and the new HI Standard self-assessment tool, which helps managers to understand what “good” looks like in managing workplace health risks.
BOHS’ CEO, Steve Perkins said “We’re delighted to be collaborating with our colleagues in IOSH and HSE to raise awareness of the dangers of silica – which is a major cause of work-related cancer. As the Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection representing the occupational hygiene profession, our expertise lies in workplace health risk management. Our input into these talks will be to explain the crucial role of occupational hygiene in managing silica and other workplace health risks, and where this fits within the broader realm of occupational health and wellbeing. We will also share information about our own Breathe Freely campaign, which offers a wealth of free resources to help managers to understand how to recognise, evaluate and control workplace health risks such as silica.”
Anyone can come along to these events, which are free to attend – a list of events can be viewed here.
If you are interested in booking this talk for a meeting near you, please email our request to firstname.lastname@example.org
The hazards of respirable crystalline silica.
BOHS, the Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection, has urged construction managers to join a diverse group of experts as they map out the way forward to better health in the construction sector at a one-day conference on 27 April 2016 in Glasgow, whilst giving a boost to a brilliant charity for sick and injured construction workers and their families.
Running as part of the Society’s Breathe Freely campaign aimed at controlling exposures to prevent occupational lung disease in the construction industry, this not-to-be-missed event will take place at The Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow.
The event is also being used to support the Lighthouse Club, a fantastic charity which provides emergency financial aid to families in the construction industry community during times of crisis following an illness, accident, injury or bereavement. The Charity is celebrating it’s 60th year and to mark this, BOHS is designating 27 April 2016 as its very own ‘Lighthouse Day’, and has committed to donating £10 from every booking for the Glasgow conference to the Lighthouse Club Benevolent Fund.
The Breathe Freely conference will feature a dynamic line-up of presenters including:
The conference will also see the launch of two exciting new Breathe Freely resources. A construction managers’ toolkit, sponsored by Arco, will offer a wide range of new practical tools including checklists, visual standards and presentation material to assist managers in delivering talks to protect workers’ lungs. In addition, the new, more detailed version of the Health in Industry (HI) Management Standard will be released at the event: this invaluable self-assessment tool helps managers assess their current position in terms of how they are managing workplace health risks, and importantly, identify areas and actions of priority.
Finally, the event will conclude with facilitated group workshop sessions which will offer delegates the chance to share their insights into priority health risks in the sector and exactly what the industry needs in order to improve standards in health. BOHS has pledged to take this feedback on board for incorporation into the next round of resources to be developed under its Breathe Freely initiative.
Commenting on the plans for the Breathe Freely conference, Steve Perkins, Chief Executive of BOHS, said,
“This event offers a unique opportunity for construction managers who have responsibility for health and safety to take an active role in shaping the future path of work-related health protection in their area. I urge proactive construction managers who live in and around Glasgow to come and network with like-minded individuals.”
Further information about the event can be accessed at
More information about the Lighthouse Club can be found at
Breathe Freely initiative backs #HelpGBWorkWell with new plans
News item 26th January 2016
BOHS has unveiled new plans for its Breathe Freely initiative to tackle Britain’s burden of work-related ill-health and help Great Britain work well, in support of the forthcoming five-strategy recently announced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) under the campaign hashtag: #HelpGBWorkWell.
As the discussions around the HSE’s new five-year strategy from 2016 to 2020 get underway, the Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection warmly welcomed the HSE’s commitment to “highlight and tackle the burden of work-related ill-health” as one of six key themes for its forthcoming five-year strategy.
Announcing new plans for its Breathe Freely initiative in 2016, the Society predicts that respiratory health in the construction industry will be absolutely critical to the success of the HSE’s strategy on work-related disease:
Construction Health Summit for CEOs.
The Construction industry unites in the battle for a healthier future
Report 22nd January 2016
The inaugural Health in Construction CEO Breakfast Summit took place yesterday morning, which saw over 150 key business leaders and industry influencers come together discussing issues such as why 100 times more UK construction workers die from work-related ill health than accidents.
The Summit was opened with a key note speech by the Chair of the HSE, Dame Judith Hackitt DBE, who said: “Britain has a proud record on health and safety – it’s one of the best in the world. Our challenge is how we make it even better. Ill-health caused by work activity is one the biggest challenges we face, with 1.2 million people suffering from a work-related illness in 2014/15. It’s through industry groups such as this, the Health in Construction Leadership Group that we can share good practice and reach a collective agreement on the best ways to help Britain work and be well.”
Construction Health Summit for CEOs
Press release: 18th January 2016
Over 150 chief executive officers and other senior leaders in the construction industry will meet in London at an inaugural Construction Health Summit on 21 January 2016 to commit to a healthier future and “managing health like safety” in the sector, in a move which has been warmly welcomed by BOHS and the Breathe Freely initiative.
The event has been organised by the Health in Construction Leadership Group, an alliance of contractors, clients, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and other trade and professional bodies, including BOHS.
The Construction Health Summit will put the spotlight on tackling the occupational health risks faced by construction workers, building on existing work already undertaken in the sector with the aim of drastically reducing occupational diseases in construction.
CEOs at the event will commit to “managing health like safety,” ensuring that the success achieved by the industry in improving safety practices on construction sites is replicated in the context of work-related health so that health and safety are given equal priority in future.
Workers across all sectors are 100 times more likely to die as a result of a work-related disease than a fatal accident in the workplace.
In the construction industry, the latest provisional figures indicate that 35 workers were fatally injured during 2014/15. However, estimates suggest that each year 3,500 former construction workers die of occupational cancer each year, with most of these deaths caused by breathing in carcinogenic substances such as asbestos, silica, and painting and diesel engine exhaust fumes.
Call to eliminate occupational cancer –
why the construction sector is crucial
Press release: 14th October 2015
A new paper calling for European and international collaboration to eliminate occupational cancer has important implications for the construction industry, as the sector with the largest number of occupational cancer cases, the majority of which are caused by breathing in carcinogenic substances.
The appeal for a more ambitious target for occupational cancer has been backed by BOHS and the Chartered Society for worker health protection says the construction industry has a crucial role to play in this regard, as illustrated by the following statistics.
• At least 8,000 cancer deaths and around 13,500 cases of cancer can be attributed each year to past occupational exposure but of all the industry sectors, it is the construction industry that accounts for the largest proportion (over 40%) of these cancer deaths and registrations.
• Over 5,500 construction workers develop cancer each year and 3,500 former construction workers die of the disease, as a result of occupational exposures.
• The majority of these cases of cancer are caused by breathing in carcinogenic substances: the most significant carcinogens in the construction sector are past exposure to asbestos (69%), followed by silica (17%), painting and diesel engine exhaust fumes (6-7% each).
The call to eliminate occupational cancer was made in a new working paper entitled Eliminating Occupational Cancer in Europe and Globally, written by Professor Jukka Takala, former Director of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) and published by the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI).
Silicosis must be stopped says BOHS,
as HSE releases powerful new video
Press release: 9th September 2015
BOHS has urged the construction industry to take decisive action to stop workers being exposed to silica dust, following the release by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) of powerful new video testimony from a silicosis sufferer. see the video here >
During the video footage, Terry, a former stone mason who is now suffering from the debilitating lung disease silicosis, tells his compelling story to Dr David Fishwick, Chief Medical Officer at the Health and Safety Laboratory.
Terry describes how, despite years of fitness training and involvement in karate at the highest level, he has been left facing silicosis, with devastating personal effects, when he should have been in the prime of his life.
In the video, Terry describes “intense” work with stone dust in a small area, creating the conditions, in his own words, for “disaster”.
Dr Fishwick says it is clear from the description of Terry’s working life that he has been exposed to significant amounts of stone dust, particularly in the last few years of his working life where he worked with sandstone containing 90% crystalline silica.
Lung Cancer in Bricklayers
News Item : 14th August 2015
A recent study shows evidence that lung cancer risk increases in proportion to the length of time spent working as a bricklayer.
In their work, bricklayers can be exposed to various airborne carcinogens, including crystalline silica and asbestos. Previous studies of cancer risk have not accounted for full employment history or smoking status, and failed to establish a firm relationship between bricklaying and lung cancer. In this study, the authors used data from the largest collection of case-control studies on lung cancer with complete occupational and smoking history existing today, the SYNERGY project. They found clear evidence that lung cancer risk increases in proportion to the length of time spent working as a bricklayer, paving the way for better protection and compensation for those in this occupation.
An insight into silica exposure in the construction industry
News Item : 10th July 2015
One of the most important health risks encountered by construction workers is exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust. Crystalline silica, mainly in the form of quartz, is the main component of most rocks, sands and clays. In the construction industry it can be found in stone, concrete, aggregates, mortars and other materials.
Respirable particles (smaller than 10 microns in diameter which can reach the deepest regions of the lung) of crystalline silica, which is produced during many common activities such as cutting, blasting or drilling granite, sandstone, slate, brick or concrete, penetrate deep down into the lungs where they can cause serious damage. Regular, repeated exposure to respirable crystalline silica can lead to silicosis, a debilitating lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders (COPD) and lung cancer. It usually takes many years of exposure to silica dust before these symptoms start.
No major study has been carried out in the UK on silica exposure, however, there are several detailed papers on exposures in the industry from other countries, available in the Annals of Occupational Hygiene and other journals.
This research has shown that many of the common activities undertaken in the construction industry lead to exposures well in excess of the UK Workplace Exposure Limit of 0.1 mg/m3 for respirable silica - and this isn't a "safe limit" with an estimated 2.5% of workers exposed to this concentration for only 15 years developing silicosis. Yet for most of the common operations where workers are at risk from exposure to silica, there are control measures available that are usually relatively straight forward to implement.
Author: Mike Slater, Immediate Past President, BOHS
To view Mike's presentation on silica in construction visit
See virtual issue of the Annals of Occupational Hygiene on papers related to respiratory diseases in the construction industry
British Lung Foundation backs BOHS Breathe Freely initiative aimed at the construction industry
Press release: 26th May 2015
BOHS, the Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection, is delighted to receive endorsement from the British Lung Foundation for its Breathe Freely initiative which launched on 28th April. The purpose of this initiative is to prevent occupational lung disease in the construction industry.
Speaking about the purpose of this campaign, BOHS CEO Steve Perkins said “There were 42 fatal injuries to UK construction workers in 2013/14. Each of these is an individual tragedy. But in the same industry and over the same period of time (a year), there were about 5,500 new occupational cancer cases, 5,000 deaths from asbestos and 500 deaths from exposure to silica dust alone. That’s a considerably bigger tragedy.
Through this campaign, we want to generate better awareness of the causes of occupational lung disease and importantly, about what can be done to prevent it. We are delighted to have the support of the British Lung Foundation for this important initiative”.
The support of the British Lung Foundation will help to ensure its key messages and materials are disseminated as widely as possible, alongside the support of existing partners and supporters including HSE, Mace, Land Securities, Constructing Better Health, Wates, Kier, Bowmer & Kirkland, Lend Lease, IOSH, Considerate Constructors Scheme and many others.
“Every year, thousands of workers, through no fault of their own, are exposed to harmful substances that could cause serious lung conditions; conditions such as mesothelioma, for which the UK has the highest mortality rate in the world”, says Dr Penny Woods, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation.
“This is why we are supporting the innovative Breathe Freely campaign. By working together we hope to promote healthier work places for construction workers, so that no one is put at risk of developing a lung disease simply because of their trade”.
Press release: 12th May 2015
A virtual issue of BOHS’s scientific journal, Annals of Occupational Hygiene, has been published online to coincide with the launch of the Breathe Freely initiative. Entitled ‘Respiratory diseases in the Construction Industry’, this collection of articles brings together the latest respiratory-related construction industry research, and is completely open access so all the articles can be freely downloaded.
The special issue can be viewed here>>:
A recently published study in the scientific journal, Occupational Medicine, shows that young stonemasons can and are still developing silicosis, a serious and deadly – yet, as we know, entirely preventable - occupational lung disease.
Read the full report here: https://www.som.org.uk/fileadmin/user_upload/Office/media/Six_cases_of_silicosis-_implications_for_health_surveillance_of_stonemasons.pdf
The study looked in detail at six stonemasons, ranging in age from 24 to 39, who have developed this disease, one after just seven years in the trade, and all of whom are yet without any symptoms.
“This research study is hugely important because it highlights the devastating impact that exposure to hazardous dusts - simply by carrying out the regular tasks of their trades - can have on young construction workers’ lives today,” says Steve Perkins, Chief Executive of BOHS. “Over 500 construction workers die every year in the UK from exposure to silica dust, and yet this can be prevented through effective control.”
Current occupational health guidelines recommend that only workers who report new or worsening respiratory symptoms be given an x-ray, but this study suggests that, in addition to controlling exposure to silica dust, regular radiological screening should be given to all workers at risk so that there is early detection of the disease. Dr Peter Reid, the lead author, from the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, said “This study … makes the case for making sure that those at high risk are given x-rays at appropriate intervals, even when they don't have symptoms. Early detection could save young lives.” Dr Reid emphasises, however, that “we should always remember that screening is not a substitute for good control of workplace exposure."
Amongst the available Breathe Freely resources is the series of fact sheets setting out the main hazards, highest risks and preferred control options for all the key construction trades, and which includes one for stonemasons which you can download from here: