Most Australian tradespeople and home renovators are now very aware of the risks of occupational and DIY exposure to asbestos. Far fewer people, however, have heard of silica dust and its risks. Yet silica dust presents a potentially significant hazard to the health and safety in those employed in mining, stone masonry, bricklaying, demolition, and other similar occupations.
Here at Tamar Hire, we are committed to promoting awareness of silica dust and providing advice and solutions to minimize occupational and DIY exposure.
What is Silica Dust?
Silica is otherwise known as quartz. A very common mineral, it is found in many materials on construction sites and in the gas and oil industry, including in sand, soil, rock, granite, masonry, tiles, concrete, some plastics, and materials used for landscaping.
When these materials are cut, drilled, or ground, the dust produced contains crystalline silica particles. These are minuscule (one hundred times smaller than a grain of sand) and invisible to the naked eye. When inhaled through normal breathing, these particles can enter and settle in the lungs. Even a tiny amount of airborne silica dust can lead to health problems, in most cases, many years later.
Why is Silica Dust Hazardous?
Inhalation of silica dust can lead to silicosis. This is a lung disease characterized by scarring and hardening of the lungs. It can be prevented, but it has no cure.
When silica dust is breathed in, it causes fluid buildup in the lungs and scar tissue forms. This makes it difficult to breathe.
- Acute silicosis causes fatigue, cough, and weight loss within a few weeks of exposure.
- Accelerated silicosis occurs within ten years of high levels of exposure.
- Chronic silicosis presents between ten and thirty years of exposure, causing extensive scarring.
Having silicosis increases your likelihood of developing lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, and other issues. Some people die from silicosis.
Other risks from silica dust exposure include:
- Lung Cancer (1% of those exposed will develop lung cancer during their lifetime as a direct result)
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
- Chronic Bronchitis
- Kidney Disease
It is estimated that, in Australia, past workplace exposure to silica dust results in 230 lung cancer diagnoses annually.
It’s important to understand that not all people exposed to silica dust will develop cancer and other issues, however, the risks increase for those with high level, repeated or long-term exposure.
Who is at Risk?
The occupations with the greatest exposure to silica dust include:
- Construction workers (including bricklayers, demolition workers, stonemasons, etc)
Activities that may expose you to silica dust include:
- Grinding, crushing, breaking, or milling
- Sand casting or blasting
- Demolition work
- Paving, surfacing, or finishing cement
- Treating mineral ore
- Manufacturing ceramics, glass, tile, bricks
- Metal or machinery fabrication
Australian states and territories have legislated work health and safety laws to clarify employer duty of care and worker responsibilities for silica dust exposure.
Employers have a duty of care for their employees and must ensure their health and safety in the workplace by conducting risk assessment. This includes identifying hazards, controlling exposure risk, and providing monitoring of air and health of workers.
Workers must follow workplace health and safety policies and take reasonable care for their own health and safety at work.
Ways to mitigate the risks of silica dust exposure include:
- Increase worker awareness through posters, training, etc.
- Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks and disposable clothing.
- Use ventilation to remove silica dust at its source.
- Monitor air for silica levels every 12-18 months.
- Monitor the health of workers before job placement and every three years.
- Use other materials for construction where suitable.
- Mitigate the need for cutting by ordering materials cut to size.
- Use correct equipment (e.g. fibre cement sheet shears in preference to circular saws).
- Use vehicles and machinery with dust suppression or collection systems.
- Use water to wet-down materials to minimize dust production.
- Encourage workers to quit smoking.
Silica Dust Awareness at Tamar Hire
Tamar Hire is currently working with Workplace Safety to understand and provide up-to-date information for our customers that relates to silica dust and how to mitigate its risks. This includes raising awareness of the potential consequences of exposure to silica dust and how to “Be Silica Safe”.
To hire tools and equipment associated with DIY construction and landscaping, or for more information relating to Silica Awareness, look no further than Tamar Hire.
We look forward to hearing from you.