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RPS Occupational Hygienist Awarded Leading Industry Prize

18 May 2017 | 4 min read

Erik van Deurssen receives Thomas Bedford Memorial Prize for research into construction quartz exposure.

RPS Occupational Hygienist Erik van Deurssen has received the Thomas Bedford Memorial Prizei in recognition of the outstanding quality of his PhD research paper examining paths for the reduction of exposure to quartz dust in construction works: ‘Effectiveness of a multidimensional randomized control intervention to reduce quartz exposure among construction workers’.

Erik, from RPS’ Breda Laboratory, accepted the prize on behalf of himself and his co-authors from Karen Bufton, President of the British Occupational Hygiene Society, a sister association of the Dutch Association for Labour Hygiene (NVvA), at a ceremony on 26th April in Harrogate, Yorkshire.

Quartz, or silica, is a naturally occurring common mineral often found in soil, sand and rock, and ergo in construction materials such as concrete and masonry. Cutting the materials releases minute particles of quartz dust, significant exposure to which can lead to respiratory damage and lung disease. Despite more raised awareness, levels of working exposure often still exceed current limit values. Worker exposure on construction sites must be kept at or below an Occuaptional Exposure Limit (OEL)ii , in accordance with national regulation.

Erik proposed a multidisciplinary intervention model developed from extensive consultation with construction workers and employers, and with industry associations and umbrella organisations including the Dutch labour inspectorate to test the feasibility of the intervention. He carried out site visits between 2010 and 2015 examining Health & Safety policies and risk procedures and conducting over 300 personal exposure measurements from construction staff. Participants also completed a strategically designed questionnaire to give insight into awareness of quartz dust and its associated exposure risks, and perceptions and attitudes towards the risks before attending plenary information sessions where they were shown a documentary produced in coordination with an expert lung physician to highlight risk perception of exposure.

The multi-faceted approach notably raised the profile of the risk and the participating companies fed back that they were giving more priority to minimising exposure to quartz dust as a result of the intervention.

“The reduction of exposure is largely due to more frequent and effective use of available management measures. At the end of the intervention, it became clear that the participating companies would give more priority to employees’ health and safety when working with quartz dust exposure, says Erik “From evaluation of participating construction workers and managers of companies, it appears that the content of the intervention is well connected to practice, and that successful translation of theory into practice was an important goal of the research. It has resulted very positively in intentions to focus more on reducing exposure and improving management safety measures and shown that employees are more aware of the health risks and safer working measures that they can take themselves.”

Although many recipients of the prize work in the academic world, Erik consciously sought a private sector career to have a more hands-on relationship with his field of study. “For the future I want to continue to acquire and apply my knowledge and experience to improving the workplace, and to advise and encourage clients to create a safe and healthy work environment. Gaining the interest and response from busy staff is a major task, but crucial to forming positive change and has given me valuable insights to benefit my professional role."

"He has shown in an excellent way what preconditions are necessary for the successful implementation of intervention studies in the field of occupational hygiene to reduce exposure to hazardous substances," said Karen Bufton at the ceremony. "This is a beautiful confirmation that my research is also being internationally appreciated" Erik acknowledged.

i The Thomas Hobbs Memorial Prize is named in honour of the British Occupational Hygiene Society’s first president. The Society’s Council awards the prize to the author(s) of the most outstanding paper published in The Annals of Occupational Hygiene over a two year period, as recommended by the Editor in Chief.

ii The figure is calculated as an average over an eight-hour working day. Many countries have moved to reduce workplace exposure limit to 0.05 mg/m3 maximum. In the US and Canada it varies by state, British Columbia and some other states in Canada – 0.025 mg/m3; - in Ireland, Italy, Finland and Portugal – 0.05 mg/m3; - in the Netherlands – 0.075 mg/m3; - in Britain – 0.1 mg/m3; - in Poland – 0.3 mg/m3.Figures from Institute of Safety and Health, UK

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