A large proportion of workers in the EU is potentially exposed to process-generated contaminants, in particular to Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS). Process-generated carcinogens occur as a by-product of a work-process. These need extra attention because they won’t have labels and there may not be any reference to them in Safety Data Sheets. This is addressed in challenge 4.2. Another milestone has been concluded: a successful Austrian inspection campaign on silica dust.
Due to the amendment of the Carcinogens Directive (EU) 2017/2398 and the SLIC Guidance for national labour inspectors on addressing risks from worker exposure to RCS on construction sites, the Austrian Labor Inspection carried out an advisory and inspection campaign focusing on silica dust throughout Austria in the years 2020 to 2022. The inspection campaign aimed at low-dust (dust-free) working methods on construction sites and, in particular, at reducing or avoiding silica dust.
In the period of 2021-2022, 1668 companies on construction sites were advised and inspected. Through this campaign, employers’ awareness of workers’ exposure to mineral dust has been increased significantly. Following inspections of already visited enterprises showed a clear improvement in all the thematic areas surveyed compared to the initial situation. The campaign led to a higher level of knowledge about silica dust and the associated health hazards, specifically the clear carcinogenic effect of silica dust.
The results of the two phases were overall positive. The level of knowledge that silica dust is classified as carcinogenic was more than doubled from 44% in Phase I to 91% in Phase II.
Regarding the level of information on activities in which workers are exposed to silica dust (i.e. when workers come into contact with air that is enriched with silica dust) the focus on the consultation from Phase I also had an effect. The respondents in Phase II knew that the material they were working with was contained with silica dust (73 % in Phase I versus 89 % in Phase II). The percentage of companies that had taken technical measures against exposure to silica dust almost doubled, rising from 42% in Phase I to 75% in Phase II.
Undercutting of the limit values for dust and in particular silica dust was already achieved by more than half of the companies in Phase II. Specifically, the value rose from 19 % in Phase I to 56 % in Phase II. There may be several reasons for this increase: On the one hand, the data density regarding the limit value comparison measurements may have increased – it can be assumed that since the end of Phase I the advised companies made limit value comparison measurements, which would allow more precise statements about the effectiveness of the technical measures. On the other hand the technical measures may also have been adapted by the companies. This was done either through technologies that were better suited to the respective situation or through improved performance of the equipment used (e.g. the use of a higher filter class in cabins). It is necessary for the remaining companies to optimise the technical measures in order to stay below the limit values.