Silica Safety - Don’t risk silicosis! How to keep yourself safe in the workplace.
Across many industries a worker will come into contact with fine silica dust. It is estimated that around 600,000 Australian workers each year are exposed to silica dust at work, including miners, construction workers, farmers, engineers, bricklayers and road construction workers, as well as those working in demolition. When breaking up sandstone, mixing concrete, drilling concrete, working with fibre glass, splitting tiles, or cleaning spills with kitty litter, clay, sand or diatomaceous earth, you are exposed to dangerous crystalline silica. If you are regularly demolishing materials, sand casting, sandblasting, bricklaying or cutting stone, tiles or bricks as a part of your job, you are at high risk.
When silica dust is under ten micrometres, it is able to travel through your cells, past antibodies, membranes, or other defenses in your body. Silica Dust can then fill the air sacs of your lungs and scar the bronchi. This scarring is known as pneumoniconiosis or silicosis, and it causes serious health issues. Silicosis is an incurable disease. It cannot be halted by reduced exposure or treatment. Once a person suffers from silicosis, they have an extremely high risk of tuberculosis, heart failure and lung cancer. The number one cause of workplace lung cancer is exposure to silica dust.
Here’s a rough WHS guide to Silicosis risk management:
applying water suppression systems to reduce dust generation
use local exhaust ventilation systems to remove dust at the source
ensure such ventilation is correctly placed and operates at effective flow rates
use dust removal systems on tools to reduce dust exposure of mobile workers
isolate areas of the workplace where dust is generated by other workers
assess the level of personal exposure among workers performing high risk tasks
ensure regular housekeeping in dusty work areas to prevent the accumulation of dust
provide suitable PPE, including a program to correctly fit, instruct on use and ensure regular maintenance of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE).
To prevent exposure to silica dust, workers must wear sealed dust masks or respirators. These respirators must meet the AS/NZS 1715:2009 Standard, and must be work in any situation where a worker could come into contact with silica dust. They need high-quality filters – the particles of silica dust which are dangerous are invisible to the naked eye and requires fine filtration. A&M Workwear have a range of suitable masks that meet these standards. Note that no Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) can prevent all silica dust from being breathed in and should be used in combination with other controls.
Another risk is the use of diatomaceous earth (kitty litter) when cleaning up spills. Diatomaceous earth contains large amounts of silica dust, and is listed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as ‘Group 1: Carcinogenic To Humans’. To protect your workers, it’s recommended that spills be cleaned up with organic cellulose floor sweeps which don’t contain silica dust when possible – hazardous spills will require specialty Zeolite sweeps.
Wishing you a safe workday – Kelly Walker, employee of A&M Workwear