Engineering Controls And Education Needed To Make Sure Workers Stay Safe From Silica

Dust particles known as silica are a major concern to the construction and stonemason industries and cause serious health problems, including the fatal lung disease Silicosis.

Engineering controls and education are necessary to ensure workers health and safety.

Workplace exposure standards set out by Safe Work Australia state that exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) should not exceed 0.1 milligram per cubic metre over an eight-hour time-weighted average.

Silica dust is tiny, 100x smaller than a grain of sand, so most people don’t know they’re inhaling in when they do. It is the product of quartz and natural rocks as well as construction materials like cement, tiles and bricks.

It is crucial that protection is in place to ensure workers stay safe including breathing masks.

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The Danger of inhaling Silica on construction sites

Workers in the Construction industry especially those working with concrete or glass are at risk of developing a condition termed Silicosis.

Silicosis occurs when fibrous tissue forms around the dust particles that have entered the lungs. This fibrous tissue does not allow for the easy exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, resulting in obstructed breathing, a problem for the worker.

Workers most vulnerable to contracting silicosis include underground mining, tunnelling and excavation workers, workers involved in extraction and cutting of quartzite, gneiss, granite and slate, workers involved in brick making or the manufacture of pottery, porcelain, refractory materials and siliceous abrasives, road construction workers and demolition workers.

This video from YouTube highlights the danger that silica can present to construction workers:

The only sure way of preventing silicosis is to avoid dust exposure but of course this is not always possible. Wherever possible, less toxic substances should be used rather than silica sand. Tools causing dust such as saws and grinders should be fitted with dust extraction devices.

Another important consideration is that of good housekeeping on site. Some of the measures that can be undertaken are vacuuming and wet sweeping rather than dry sweeping