IMA-Europe represents crystalline silica through a specific section: EUROSIL. Silica is commonly found in nature as sand. Silica exists in many various forms that can be crystalline as well as non-crystalline (amorphous). Quartz, the most common of the crystalline silica polymorphs, constitutes 12% of the Earth’s crust and is the second most abundant mineral in nature. Consequently, it is everywhere in our daily environment: on beaches and roads, in the fields, on athletics tracks and in the garden. All mining and quarrying activities involve crystalline silica. Indeed it is present in all naturally occurring materials that have been mined from the ground for thousands of years: sand, gravel, dimension stones, metallic and non-metallic mineral ores. Therefore, from traces to significant amounts, crystalline silica is present in numerous commodities, which are vital raw materials for modern technology and everyday life.

Why is it important?

It has been known for many years that prolonged inhalation of Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) may cause a specific type of lung damage called silicosis. Severe cases of silicosis can, in turn, lead to lung cancer as a secondary disease.

The industrial minerals industry is a strong advocate of workers’ health protection and the prevention of their exposure to RCS and, to this aim, has been the initiator of an innovativeĀ Social Dialogue Agreement on workers’ health protection through the good handling and use of crystalline silica and products containing it, the so-called NEPSI Agreement. Through this Agreement, the social partners of 18 concerned sectors are committed to controlling the exposure of workers to dust and crystalline silica by applying good practices. It is the first and only multisectoral social dialogue agreement signed at the European level and published in the Official Journal (OJ C 279, 17.11.2006).

The NEPSI Agreement and Good Practices support the implementation of the recent update to the Directive on Carcinogens and Mutagens in the Workplace (Directive 2017/2398), which implements a legal RCS occupational exposure limit of 0.1 mg/m3.

To provide all useful information on RCS, including information on the numerous industry initiatives regarding RCS workplace exposure prevention and RCS Substance Classification, EUROSIL has created a dedicated website: SafeSilica.

Our views

As Commissioner Marianne Thyssen highlighted on the occasion of the NEPSI Agreement’s tenth anniversary: “Setting limit values through EU legislation is instrumental in protecting workers’ health, but it is the quality of implementation and enforcement that will determine whether lives are saved.”

In light of the newly adopted European Occupational Exposure Limit value adopted for respirable crystalline silica dust in Directive 2017/2398, IMA-Europe Members identified the need of developing a holistic management systems approach to NEPSI in order to improve the quality of implementation of their legal obligations.

On 5 October 2018, IMA-Europe released a publication entitled NEPSI 2.0. “Management Systems Approach Towards NEPSI Implementation”. NEPSI 2.0. provides guidelines on how to integrate NEPSI principles into companies’ H&S management systems. Reference is made to the new occupational health and safety standard ISO45001, but the principles are equally valid for the existing OHSAS 18001 and equivalent systems. The guidance is particularly relevant for companies where no management system exists since it provides a useful framework to build upon and/or integrate into any existing management system.