“Silica dust is the new asbestos” and “silica dust is more dangerous than coalmine dust”. This is what has been recently reported in the Australasian Mine Safety Journal, where they reveal the increasing number of Australian tradies who are being struck down by silicosis. Silicosis is lung fibrosis – an irreversible scarring and stiffening of the lungs caused by the inhalation of dust containing silica.

WHP conduct health surveillance for crystalline silica onsite across Perth and WA to WorkSafe requirements.

What is silica dust?

Silica dust is harmful when inhaled into your lungs. It is 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, and you can be breathing it in without knowing.

Exposure to silica dust can lead to the development of lung cancer, silicosis, 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. Not all exposed workers will develop cancer; cancer risk increases with long term or repeated high level exposure.

See the Cancer Council’s fact sheet on Silica Dust – Occupational Cancer Risk.

Silica related lung diseases increasing in young Aussie workers

As reported on SBS, young tradesmen frequently exposed to dusts generated from stone products, commonly used in kitchen and bathroom benchtops, are being warned they may be at risk of another lung disease making a comeback in Australia.

“These are diseases we thought had almost been eradicated, but thanks to exposure to high levels of dust and poor control measures they’re resurfacing,” said Professor Allan Glanville, President of the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand. Silicosis and black lung diseases, are progressive, irreversible and sometimes fatal lung diseases caused by prolonged exposure to respirable crystalline silica, quartz and coal dusts. There is no known treatment or cure, but they can be prevented.

The toxic silica dust has been dubbed “the new asbestos”, and a 2017 Queensland Parliamentary inquiry into Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis (Black Lung) was told silica was “more dangerous than coalmine dust”, according to the latest AMSJ article.

Who is at risk of silica dust exposure?

You may be exposed to silica dust if your 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
  • stonemasonery
  • mineral ore-treating processes
  • manufacture of glass, ceramics, brick, concrete, tile, metals or machinery.

The recommendations for silica dust exposure management in WA can be found here

Health monitoring for silica dust

WHP conduct health surveillance for crystalline silica onsite across Perth and WA to WorkSafe requirements.

OHS 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. Safe Work Australia’s
crystalline silica health monitoring guide outlines how to monitor workers.

Health monitoring can help to detect loss in lung function before permanent damage. Health surveillance should be undertaken before job placement and at least every three years (yearly for high-risk jobs). WorkSafe QLD have a thorough technical guide to managing silica exposure in the workplace.  Bear in mind that this refers to WHS regulations for QLD.

What do employers need to do?

Air monitoring

The mandatory limit for silica dust exposure in Australia is 0.1mg/m3 averaged over an eight-hour day. The ACGIH have recommended the threshold limit value be 0.025mg/m3 over an eight hour day. This limit was based on the prevention of lung cancer and silicosis. However, there is currently no evidence to suggest a safe level of silica dust exposure.

Health monitoring

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. Safe Work Australia’s
crystalline silica health monitoring guide outlines how to monitor workers. Health monitoring can help to detect loss in lung function before permanent damage occurs.

WHP provide air monitoringonsite health monitoring, including lung function testing in Perth and around WA.

Get in touch to find out how we can help you keep your workers safe.