Crystalline Silica Dust is said to be a bigger problem than asbestos.
What is silica dust?
Silica dust (crystalline silica) is found in some stone, rock, sand, gravel and clay. The most common form is quartz. Silica dust can also be found in the following products:
• some plastic material.
When these materials are worked on, silica is released as a fine dust known as respirable crystalline silica or silica dust.
Today, all States and Territories in Australia have work health and safety laws that explain duty of care for employers and workers’ responsibilities.
Silica dust and cancer
Silica dust is harmful when inhaled into your lungs. As it is 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, you can be breathing it in without knowing.
Exposure to silica dust can lead to the development of lung cancer, silicosis (an irreversible scarring and stiffening of the lungs), kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It is estimated that 230 people develop lung cancer each year as a result of past exposure to silica dust at work. Not all exposed workers will develop cancer; cancer risk increases with long term or repeated high level exposure.
Work and exposure to silica dust
Approximately 587,000 Australian workers were exposed to silica dust in the workplace in 2011. It has been estimated that 5758 of these will develop a lung cancer over the course of their life as a result of that exposure. The occupations with the greatest exposure include:
- construction workers
You may be exposed to silica dust if your work involves:
- breaking, crushing, grinding or milling material containing silica dust
- sand blasting or casting
- paving, surfacing or cement finishing
- demolition work
- road construction
- stone masonry
- mineral ore-treating processes
- manufacture of glass, ceramics, brick, concrete, tile, metals or machinery.
Dust management and avoidance strategies:
Employers need to monitor dust levels according to Australian and SAI Global standards. An occupational hygienist can help. Use the following methods to manage and minimise workplace dust exposure:
- Wear appropriate safety goggles and a filtration mask
- Ensure adequate ventilation in the workplace
- Implement dust monitoring programs according to Australian and SAI Global standards
- Check whether there’s a way to complete the task without generating dust
- Avoid kicking up dust
- Use dust control measures such as dust removal tools, exhaust systems and vacuums
- Use water and other wetting agents to prevent airborne dust from muck piles, broken rock, crushing and screening plants, and cutting, drilling or grinding surfaces
- Use tools that are appropriate to the material you’re working with
- Replace or sharpen cutting tools if performance drops
- Clean your workplace regularly