Project Lead(s): Paul Bozek
Tens of millions of people worldwide are exposed to silica dust, which can cause lung cancer, silicosis and predisposes people to tuberculosis.
In India’s agate‐processing cottage industries, more than 20,000 working poor, their children and families are exposed to silica dust.
Since agate consists of a high percentage of crystalline silica, each production step creates fine dust that can be hazardous to those who inhale it, including the spouses and children of those who work in or adjacent to their homes, and the neighbours of small buildings used as factories.
This project piloted prevention strategies in India to control or limit dust exposure from agate, with the intent that the approach be adapted for use in other low- and middle-income countries and a variety of industries.
In partnership with a local charity, People’s Training and Research Centre (PTRC), that had contacts in the industry, the project team facilitated visits by experts to identify engineering controls that could capture dust at the point of generation.
Ten work sites were selected for the pilot intervention, which involved installation and use of custom-built local exhaust ventilation systems (LEVs).
Other tools deployed in the work sites included educational tools for workers, family members and neighbours.
A printed and laminated information card on health effects and how to seek medical advice was distributed to this population and verbally summarized to each of the 1,100 people reached during a door-to-door attitude and knowledge survey. Awareness videos in the local language were created by Indian university students for worker training.
A separate education tool was developed for primary-care physicians treating workers seeking treatment for early signs of silicosis.
The team successfully demonstrated that expertise, combined with locally-sourced products and services, can be used to significantly reduce silica dust exposure in a small business setting.
Silica dust levels were lowered by 50 to 90% at pilot sites.
This was achieved by applying established engineering knowledge to produce technical solutions that meet the needs of agate-processing businesses without radical changes to traditional accepted work processes and practices.
The project team also engaged and educated a significant proportion of the worker population, their families and even some in the neighbouring households by direct contact (the door-to-door survey) to spread key messages about ‘prevention’ in acceptable ways.
Knowledge about the project has been disseminated at international conferences.
A major goal of future plans for the project team is to develop low‐cost, practicable controls that are sustainable and maintainable, while simultaneously improving awareness and acceptance of change.
This will entail further development of a comprehensive silica risk management toolbox that can be adapted to fit other occupational health risks in the developing world.