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Exposure to Silica Dust

What is Silica?

Silica is silicon dioxide, a naturally occurring widely abundant mineral that forms the major component of most rocks and soils. There are non-crystalline and crystalline forms of silicon dioxide. Crystalline silica is also known as free silica. Crystalline silica dust particles which are small enough to penetrate deep into the lung are termed respirable. Respirable crystalline silica may cause lung damage. The non-crystalline form of silica does not cause this kind of lung damage.

The main form of crystalline silica is quartz. Granite contains 25 per cent to 40 per cent quartz, shales average 22 per cent and sandstones average 67 per cent quartz. Quartz is the major component of sand in locations like stream beds, beaches and deserts. Other polymorphs of silicon dioxide, like cristobalite and tridymite are less common.

So what work involves Silica?

Your employees may be exposed to silica dust if their work involves:

  • Breaking, crushing, grinding or milling material containing silica dust
  • Sand blasting or casting
  • Paving, surfacing or cement finishing
  • Bricklaying
  • Demolition work
  • Road construction
  • Stonemasonry
  • Mineral ore-treating processes
  • Manufacture of glass, ceramics, brick, concrete, tile, metals or machinery.

Health Effects

If a worker is exposed to and breathes in silica dust they could develop:

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Emphysema
  • Acute silicosis
  • Accelerated silicosis
  • Chronic silicosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Kidney damage
  • Scleroderma

Health Surveillance

WHS Regulations state that health monitoring must be provided to workers who are continually working with silica dust and there is a significant risk to the worker’s health.

Lung function tests can be used to measure the effect of silica in the lungs. In the early stages there may be no change in lung function. However, as the silica accumulates there can be an interference of the ability to shift air quickly, which can be measured by spirometry, or in the ability of the lung to exchange oxygen, which can be measured by special lung function tests or exercise tests.

Employment Ready

At Employment Ready, we perform mobile spirometry testing. We recognise that your time is valuable and that projects have tight deadlines which means time away from site would slow down productivity. We would like to offer you the best service and make this more convenient for you. Reach out and contact us for more information about our mobile spirometry service

Exposure to Silica Dust