What is silicosis?

Silicosis is a group of work-related lung diseases caused by exposure to silica dust.

Silica is contained in construction materials such as concrete, bricks, tiles, sandstone and granite. When those materials are drilled, cut or crushed, tiny particles of silica are released into the air. These particles can be so fine you may not know you are breathing them in.

Silica is highly toxic in dust form.

Silicosis is caused by breathing in unsafe levels of this silica dust, which can scar your lungs and cause them to stiffen. Once diagnosed, the disease generally progresses over time. Patients with accelerated silicosis may progress to progressive massive fibrosis over a period of four to five years. Overall, people diagnosed with silicosis lose an average 11.6 years of life. So, prevention is vital.

silicosis lung xray

Chest x-ray of complicated silicosis, showing large areas of scarring

Emerging public health crisis

The Queensland Government has issued an urgent warning to the engineered stone benchtop industry after 22 silicosis claims were lodged to WorkCover in a three week period, including 6 people who were diagnosed as terminal. One sufferer is only 27 years old.

This resurgence in cases is likely related to a poor understanding of the risks involved in working with engineered stone, and a lack of adherence to safety regulations and health surveillance requirements.

Download Safe Work Australia’s Silica Health Monitoring Guide

Measuring silica dust

The Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists recommends “where there is a continued likelihood of 50 per cent of the exposure standard being exceeded, exposure monitoring and health surveillance should apply“. Do you know the exposure standard for silica?

Learn more about how to measure silica dust levels in your workplace.

Silica health monitoringsilicosis

Where employees are exposed to silica dust, health surveillance or silica health monitoring should be conducted annually to detect any early signs of lung disease or silicosis.

See what tests should be included in your silica health monitoring assessments


Who is at greatest risk of silicosis?

Those with the greatest exposure include miners, construction workers, farmers, engineers, stonemasons and those working with engineered stone benchtops.

Silica dust exposure occurs when work involves:

  • breaking, crushing, grinding or milling material containing silica silicosis
  • 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.

Contact us for more on

silica dust air monitoring and onsite silica health monitoring