The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) regulates exposure to silica primarily through the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH). COSHH requires employers to ensure substances which may be harmful to people’s health through their work activities are identified and assessed; and processes are put in place to eliminate or control risks. Silica is also subject to workplace exposure limits (WELs), which set out maximum exposure levels to hazardous substances. The most harmful form of silica is respirable crystalline silica (RCS).
HSE has produced a range of freely available guidance to demonstrate what compliance with COSHH and good control practice looks like across a range of industries, available at http://www.hse.gov.uk/coshh/index.htm.
HSE has also produced internal operational guidance that outlines the initial enforcement expectations where HSE’s inspectors encounter problems related to RCS during regulatory interventions. These form a benchmark against which compliance can be measured on an intervention-by-intervention basis.
Overall compliance is assessed on an industry-by-industry basis. In 2009, HSE published Research Report RR689 ‘Silica Baseline Survey’ that provided intelligence on exposure and control of RCS in key industry sectors. In the intervening period, RCS has remained an important issue within HSE’s inspection programme for the relevant high-risk sectors. For example, HSE recently conducted an inspection initiative between 17th June 2019 – 12th July 2019 that focussed on RCS and other dusts in the construction industry. The extent of compliance is considered as part of HSE’s evaluation work of such workstreams alongside other significant risks.