Silica Dust – the ‘Asbestos’ of the Construction Industry
If you work in the construction industry, especially if your work involves grinding, sand blasting or surfacing material containing silica dust (e.g. concrete or stone benchtops), Silica Testing is vital to protect your health.
What is Silica?
Silica dust (crystalline silica) is found in some stone, rock, sand, gravel, brick, tiles, concrete and clay, with the most common form being quartz. When these materials are worked on, silica is released as fine dust, 100 times smaller than a grain of sand and easy to inhale without realising.
Why is Silica so harmful?
Exposure to silica dust is directly linked to 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.”
– The Cancer Council
While not all exposed workers will develop cancer; your risk increases with long term or repeated high-level exposure, and should be monitored.
Silica Dust Exposure & Monitoring
The Workplace Exposure Standards outlines that the exposure for silica dust must be at or below 0.05 mg/m3 (eight-hour time weighted average). It’s recommended to carry out air monitoring in order to ensure your workplace is below the limit.
All businesses must provide health monitoring for their workers if their work regularly exposes them to silica dust.
Should you have Silica Testing?
If your work regularly involves cutting, polishing or working with benchtops, you are at high risk of inhaling silica dust, and your respiratory health should be monitored.
At work, do you:
- break, crush, grind or mill stone, brick or concrete, etc?
- sandblast or cast?
- pave, surface or finish cement?
- conduct demolitions or road construction?
- work in stonemasonry?
- manufacture glass, ceramics, brick, concrete, tile, metals or machinery?
Then you are at risk of exposure to silica dust. Even if you are using the correct PPE and other control measures, they should be backed up by regular testing to ensure any excessive levels of crystalline silica are identified early. Spirometry testing is crucial as it can detect any loss in lung function before radiography tests can, and before significant lung function is lost.
How does Silica Testing work?
The testing process is simple and painless:
First, an occupational health nurse or doctor will conduct an assessment where they will obtain a medical history and complete a physical examination of the respiratory system.
Then a lung function test (spirometry) will measure how effectively air is being moved in and out of the lungs.
Finally, a low dose CT Scan will be taken to identify any abnormalities.
After the initial testing and health assessment, yearly testing should be conducted to ensure the continued health of the respiratory system.