The risks of respirable crystalline silica dust and the potential reduction in the exposure standard
May. 1 2019
What is Silica dust?
Silica dust is generated in workplace mechanical processes and some dust particles can be so small that they are not visible and become respirable particles (respirable crystalline silica is most dangerous to health). Respirable crystalline silica dust particles are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs and can cause irreversible lung damage. Silica is one of the most abundant minerals and is present in in many products across a variety of industries and workplaces.
Examples of work activities that can generate respirable crystalline silica dust particles include:
- Fabrication, handling and installation of composite (engineered or manufactured) stone counter-tops
- Excavation, earth moving and drilling plant operations
- Clay and stone processing machine operations
- Mining, quarrying and mineral ore treating processes
- Construction labouring activities
- Brick, concrete or stone cutting; especially using dry methods
- Demolition activities
What diseases can silica dust cause?
If a worker is exposed to and breathes in respirable crystalline silica dust they could develop chronic bronchitis, emphysema, silicosis, even lung cancer depending on the amount of exposure to silica dust. Silicosis is a death sentence as it is irreversible and has no known cure.
Potential reduction of silica dust exposure standard
The current exposure standard for crystalline silica dust at a worksite is 0.100mg/m3. However, this standard is currently under review and there is potential for it to be reduced to levels as low as 0.025mg/m3 as an 8hr TWA. If this occurs then employers must not expose workers to respirable crystalline silica dust at or above 0.025mg/m3 as an 8 hour time weighted average (TWA) and must take action to review control measures once respirable silica dust reaches 0.0125mg/m3 as an 8hr TWA.
Protecting Victorian Workers From Deadly Silica Dust
The Andrews Labor Government have announced today that they will launch an unprecedented compliance and enforcement blitz targeting over 300 high-risk workplaces – focusing on stonemasonry workshops to prevent the deadly lung disease silicosis.
The Labor Government is also leading the push to reduce the Australian silica workplace exposure standard from 0.1 mg/m3 to 0.02 mg/m3 as an 8hr TWA.
The comprehensive action plan, unveiled by Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for Workplace Safety Jill Hennessy, includes:
- A state-wide ban on uncontrolled dry cutting of materials that contain crystalline silica dust
- Free health screening for Victoria’s 1400 stonemasons
- A tough new compliance code for businesses working with silica
- An awareness campaign to highlight the risks of working with engineered stone.The Labor Government has also requested WorkSafe examine ways for improving access to compensation for workers with silicosis, including expediting compensation claims for lost wages and pain and suffering.