A Cumbrian quarry has taken part in a UK-first trial of specialised equipment.

Burlington Stone, in Kirkby-in-Furness, is spearheading an industry-wide initiative that trials new live air monitoring instruments with a goal of improving safety conditions for its employees.

The trial took place in January and was run by the Minerals Product Association (MPA) in collaboration with Trolex Engineering.

The monitors continuously evaluate the amount of fine particles in the air, sending live, data to managers stationed in the factory.

Pete Walker, HSEQ manager at Burlington, commented on the purpose of the monitors and the silica they are monitoring. He said: “It’s a natural product from within rocks and minerals that we process. However, when you breathe it any fine particles present can sit deep in the lungs and lead to respiratory illness. “We create everything here, from roofing slates to gravestones, kitchen worktops to aggregate for roads and driveways, so we are cutting and breaking stone in every which way possible, and the stone we quarry has around 40 per cent silica.

“I can identify the hotspots immediately.

"There is a safety level and the regulatory sample might show that the activity produced a sample that was under that over the eight-hour period. However, under those current tests we wouldn’t know if one particular aspect of that activity is more risky during a different stage of the process or different time of the day.”

Dust and Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) monitoring is mandatory.

However, it took a two-week period for samples, sent to labs for analysis, to return to the quarry.

These samples could not identify irregularities that occurred throughout the day but the new technology can change this.

Mr Walker said: “The data was absolutely invaluable to us.

“It certainly opened my eyes: it helped us to see, for example, that in part of the factory we have 10 employees all doing the same activity, using the same tools, at the same time, but because of their different techniques we found a substantial difference in total dust particles from one end of the factory to the other.

“We are able to use these monitors to better and more quickly understand a new machine or new process, so we could monitor that in live time and get a real understanding without having to wait for the laboratory analysis."

Walker expressed their delight at spearheading the initiative.

He saw the opportunity as advantageous to learning about safety improvements and exhibited their dedication to being part of the industry's future.

Burlington identified some possible improvements and some basic changes as a result of the three week trial.

All findings will be analysed and subsequently shared with the MPA, Trolex, and the rest of the industry.

Mike Birkett, HSEQ advisor at Burlington, added, "The feedback from the operators was that the monitors were comfortable to wear, very small and very light.

"People were genuinely interested to find out the results."