Are Your Lungs At Risk Of Silica Dust Exposure?

Are Your Lungs At Risk Of Silica Dust Exposure?

Do you drill, cut, saw, grind, jackhammer, crush, demolish or sand any of these materials? If so, you might be at risk of silica dust exposure.


What is Silica Dust?

Silica dust, also known as quartz, is one of the most common materials we come in contact with on building sites, in gardens, and around the home. But this also makes it dangerous.

Silica is found in soil, sand, gravel, concrete, masonry, rock, granite, clay, tiles, landscaping materials and artificial stone benchtops. In these solid forms, silica does not present a threat, however, when it is disturbed; for example, when these materials are cut, ground, drilled or broken apart, we run the risk of inhaling crystalline silica particles found in the dust created which are carcinogenic.

These dust particles are 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, so we’re unable to detect them with the naked eye and might not even know or think much of breathing them in. However, inhaling silica dust, even in small amounts can have very serious health consequences, increasing your risk of developing lung damage, cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease each time it’s inhaled.

It’s estimated that 230 people each year in Australia develop lung cancer due to past exposure to silica dust at work. While not everyone who is exposed to silica dust will develop cancer, your risk increases with long term or repeated high-level exposure.

Why is Silica Dust Dangerous?

Silicosis occurs when someone inhales crystalline silica dust which travels into the lungs and becomes lodged in the small, fragile air sacs where oxygen is absorbed into the blood. Because these dust particles are too hard to be broken down by immune cells, they become trapped in the lungs forming scar tissue. The more of this scar tissue that forms, the harder it becomes for your lungs to function naturally and you to breathe normally until finally, you’re unable to breathe at all. The damage which silica dust causes can continue to happen even after exposure has stopped so it’s important to manage risks every time you come in contact with silica dust.

But the good news is that silicosis is 100% preventable

Are You at Risk?

In 2011 about 587,000 Australians were exposed to silica dust whilst working. Those professions at greatest risk, according to the Cancer Council, are miners, construction workers, farmers and engineers. However, if your work involves the following, then the answer is yes, you’re at risk too!

• Breaking, crushing or grinding silica-containing materials
• Moving earth e.g. excavating, mining, quarrying, tiling or tunnelling
• Sandblasting
• Brick-laying
• Paving, surfacing or cement finishing
• Laying, maintaining or replacing the ballast
• Road construction
• Demolition
• Stonemasonry
• Manufacture of glass, ceramics, concrete, tile, metals, mineral products
• Drilling, cutting, chiselling or sanding silica-containing material
• Handling, mixing or shovelling dry silica-containing material

 How Can You Stay Safe?

The answer is simple: prevent silica dust exposure by keeping the dust out of the air. That is, you need the right tools to protect you.

The mandatory limit for silica dust exposure in Australia is 0.1mg/m3 averaged over an eight-hour day. Using power tools with a dust attachment/accessory and dust extractors with the right filter drastically reduce exposure to silica dust.

Bosch’s PRO+GUARDTM Protection System is an anchored dust collection system which boosts productivity by drastically reducing installation time of the extraction device. It’s able to capture more than 99.97% of dust particles 0.3 microns and larger when used correctly, keeping the air you breathe cleaner using HEPA filters. This not only keeps you safe but those on sites around you.

Various products make up the PRO+GUARDTM protection range including the HCD2074 & DXS5034 Speed CleanTM Dust Extraction Bits and the HDC200 Universal Dust Collection Attachment which works in conjunction with Bosch’s filter & dust extractors and fit to Bosch power tools.

Hardware & General Building and Industrial departments also offer a range of respiratory products to help you get compliant with regulations. Ask our specialist for help at your local H&G Stores

When choosing respiratory gear, it’s important to first know the hazards which the filter is needed to protect you from. After all, respirators won’t protect you from jobs they’re not designed for. According to the 3M Centre for Respiratory protection, this process can be summarized in 4 steps

  1. Know your hazard type
  2. Find out if your workers need respiratory protection
  3. Determine the level of protection needed
  4. Choose a respirator type

If using a conventional respirator then either a particulate respirator or an air-supplied respirator must be used. With particulate respirators (also called negative-pressure respirators) the wearer pulls air through the filter. This filter must be rated P1, P2 or P3 according to the substance being filtered out. P1 filters have the lowest performance, and P3 filters the highest. Below is an example of their uses:

• Class P1 particulate filters are used against mechanically generated particulates e.g. silica and wood dust.
• Class P2 particulate filters are used for protection against mechanically and thermally generated particulates or both e.g. metal fumes.
• Class P3 particulate filters are used for protection against highly toxic or highly irritant particulates e.g. beryllium (when worn with a full facepiece).

Air supplied respirators (also called a positive-pressure respirator), do the work for you -pushing filtered air into the headpiece. These protect the wearer by supplying clean breathing air from an independent source such as an air compressor or compressed air cylinder.

Why Can’t Silica-Exposed Workers Just Wear Respirators All the Time?

It’s important to remember that respirators aren’t as effective as engineering controls and they’re not always practical either. To ensure the best level of protection, respirators would have to be individually fitted, maintained, refitted and replaced, in addition to being worn consistently and correctly, in order to be effective. This is costly and logistically challenging in comparison with extraction solutions. The best solution is a combination of both.

If you’re not sure how to reduce your risk while using different equipment or completing specific tasks, you can refer to OSHA 1926.1153 table 1 silica regulations for power tools here.

Keep Yourself Silica Dust Safe

In order to keep you and your team safe from silica dust exposure on site, the Occupational Health and Safety Association and Safe Work Australia require employers to use these measures on job sites:

  • The use of engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) to limit worker exposure to respirable silica dust to the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL)
  • Provide respirators when engineering controls cannot adequately limit exposure
  • Limit worker access to high exposure areas
  • Develop a written exposure control plan
  • Train workers on silica risks and how to limit exposure
  • Provide medical exams to monitor highly exposed workers and give them information about their lung health

In the end, the most important thing is your health and safety, and with the right tools and advice, we can make sure you’re productive, protected and ready to power through your projects. After all, silicosis is 100% preventable which means you can easily manage and reduce your risk.