Experts Back HSE Call for More X-Rays to Protect Workers Exposed to RCS

Experts Back HSE Call for More X-Rays to Protect Workers Exposed to RCS

  • Date: Monday 23rd July 2018
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Workers at risk of lung disease due to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) are not receiving the regular x-rays needed to detect early signs of disease during statutory health surveillance checks, the HSE’s principal medical examiner has warned. As a result, the HSE is currently examining the need to review and strengthen current HSE guidelines for workers exposed to RCS.

Other experts have confirmed that there are deficits in health surveillance for workers exposed to RCS. Workers who are exposed to, or at risk of exposure to, RCS should regularly undergo both x-ray screening and “spirometry” lung function tests – not one or the other.

It is a common misconception that lung function testing will detect silicosis, which is true, but only in the later stages of the disease. Employers often only carry out lung function tests to look for the symptoms which can take many years to develop after exposure. X-ray testing is considered a better method to help to identify signs of silicosis much earlier.

Many people are asymptomatic, wandering around with an apparent dust disease - although their x-rays would suggest otherwise. Annual lung function testing alone is not helpful in these circumstances. The two checks need to be done concurrently to make the health surveillance programme adequate.

Employers should be wary of occupational health providers who offer employers “off the shelf” packages of health surveillance for respiratory disease, which do not include x-rays. Silicosis is a restrictive, not obstructive, lung disease, and as such requires a different kind of health surveillance.


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