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Plaudits for silica dust campaign

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Around 8,000 people die every year in Britain from occupational cancers. This was one of the concerning figures that was highlighted by the IOSH-fronted ‘No Time to Lose’ campaign, which seeks to raise awareness of the risk of work-related cancers.

Everyone now knows about asbestos but the campaign has shown that the problem goes much further and there’s one area that poses a particular risk to frontline track workers.

Over the past few years, the rail industry has been waking up to the dangers of ballast dust, or crystalline silica to give it its scientific name. Silica dust is produced when drilling into things like concrete, bricks or tiles. Railway workers are also at risk of inhaling silica dust when unloading and handling ballast.

Raise awareness

A team at Doncaster-based VolkerRail won this year’s Infrastructure or Plant Person or Team of the Year category for leading a campaign within the business to tackle the risk of its workforce developing the life-threatening lung condition silicosis.

VolkerRail’s ‘Positive Intervention to Control Exposure to Ballast Dust’ initiative is an internal training programme developed by the company’s Supervisors Forum.

The programme has taken various steps to protect its employees from the risk of ballast dust, including holding briefing sessions to ensure staff are competent in using full-face fitting masks and fully understand the long-term health risks they could be exposed to by not following good safe practices.

Jack Pendle, engineering director for VolkerRail, said, ‘As far as the guys who actually did all the work for this, we’re absolutely thrilled for them. It was an absolutely quality thing they did. It’s a real issue for the industry and the work they’ve done is a real step forward.’

He believes the award will help to further highlight the risk posed by silica dust to track workers.

‘This is the new asbestosis as far as I’m concerned,’ said Jack. ‘This is an absolutely positive step forward. We’ve got a massive health and wellbeing programme in VolkerRail and this was one of the major issues we’ve got.’

VolkerRail’s HSQE manager, Seth Harrison, was also highly commended in the Rail Safety Person of the Year category – a strong endorsement of the company’s health and safety culture.

Ken Robinson, VolkerRail’s specialist businesses director, said, ‘Our employees are the heart of our company and their efforts and dedication are what make us the success we are today. This result is a great achievement and has been made extra special due to both receiving their accolades for the efforts they have made in making the railway safer.’

Health and wellbeing

Scott Harrison, a commercial director at category sponsor SPX FLOW, said, ‘Our SPX FLOW teams spend quite a lot of time on track actually doing some of the installation work, supporting the contractors. We see ballast dust as being one of the critical factors on site for health and wellbeing. This is just such a positive move forward.’

Highly commended: Paul Murphy, Keltbray Rail and Dover Sea Wall Project, Network Rail.

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