Preventing Silicosis in the Workplace

We take a look at preventing silicosis in the workplace and how companies can do their best to protect staff from this irreversible, and often fatal, disease. We also explain more about the disease and how it manifests itself.

WHAT IS SILICOSIS?

Silicosis is a lung disease caused by inhaling crystalline silica dust, a type of sand found in many types of rock and soil. Over time, exposure to silica dust can cause silicosis permanent scarring and stiffening of the lungs, kidney disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

It can also lead to the development of lung cancer,

Symptoms of silicosis can appear from a few weeks to many years after exposure to silica dust and typically worsen over time, especially if exposure to the dust is ongoing.

Common symptoms of silicosis include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Cyanosis (bluish skin)

In severe cases, it can lead to death.

FACT – SILCICA DUST IS 100 TIMES SMALLER THAN A GRAIN OF SAND. You could be breathing it in without even realising it!

Many workers, don’t even know they are working with silica dust and are unaware of its dangers. As employers and manufacturers, it is critical to understand the dangers of silica dust, and how to prevent silicosis in the workplace to prevent any future health issues to staff.

SILICOSIS VS ASBESTOSIS

For many years, asbestosis was the main concern when it came to dust in the workplace, so much so that it is now heavily regulated. The key difference is that asbestos is airborne whereas silica dust is created when cutting.

Regulation became such that the control of asbestos is much more regulated than silica in the workplace in certain countries. In fact, around the world people are currently calling for the ban of engineered stone benchtops and encouraging governments to listen.

These engineered benchtops are a key culprit for creating silica dust. Safe Work Australia reports that while some engineered worktops can contain up to 95 per cent crystalline silica, no amount of silica is safe – a blow to manufacturers who are lobbying for 40%.

SOME ADDITIONAL FACTS ABOUT SILICOSIS:

  • Silicosis is a progressive disease, which means that it gets worse over time.
  • There is no cure for silicosis, but there are treatments that can help to improve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.
  • Silicosis can be a fatal disease.
  • People with silicosis are at increased risk for other lung diseases, such as tuberculosis and lung cancer.

If you think you may have silicosis, it is important to see a doctor right away.

PREVENTING SILICOSIS

While it is not reversible, silicosis is a preventable disease. There are several ways to reduce exposure to silica dust, including:

  • Using water or compressed air to control dust
  • Wearing personal protective equipment, such as respirators
  • Ensuring that work areas are well-ventilated
  • Avoid working with products that contain crystalline silica

If you are exposed to silica dust, seeing a doctor for regular checkups is important. Early diagnosis and treatment can help to prevent the progression of silicosis.

Silicosis can be prevented by avoiding exposure to silica dust. All workplaces in the UK must comply with The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.

This sets a workplace exposure limit for silica. Your employer should supply you with the necessary protection equipment. This should include face masks, protective clothing and dust suppression equipment.

Advice for Employers:

  • Identify potential sources of silica dust exposure. This includes tasks such as cutting, grinding, drilling, and sandblasting of materials that contain silica.
  • Establish a written respiratory protection program
  • Comply with regulations on respirable crystalline silica.
  • Implement engineering controls to reduce dust exposure. This may include using water to suppress dust, installing local exhaust ventilation, or using dust-collection systems.
  • Provide workers with personal protective equipment (PPE), such as respirators. Workers should be trained on how to use PPE properly and should be required to wear it when they are exposed to silica dust.
  • Monitor worker exposure to silica dust and keep records of exposure levels. This information can be used to identify workers who are at risk for developing silicosis and to take steps to reduce their exposure.
  • Provide medical examinations for employees who may be exposed to respirable crystalline silica. Have x-rays read by a specialist in dust diseases. You should also develop a plan for reducing exposures of employees whose X-rays show changes consistent with silicosis.
  • Report all cases of silicosis to regulatory bodies.

Advice for Workers:

  • Be aware of the potential for silica dust exposure in your workplace. Ask your employer about the steps that are being taken to control dust exposure.
  • Wear the PPE that your employer provides, such as a respirator. This will help to protect you from breathing in silica dust.
  • Report any concerns about silica dust exposure to your employer. Your employer is responsible for taking steps to protect you from exposure.
  • Know the products that you are working with. For tradesmen that maybe working with engineered worktops that contain silica dust, it is critical to understand the materials that you are working with and the dangers that you might be exposed to.

By following these steps, we can help to prevent silicosis and protect the health of workers.

HERE ARE SOME ADDITIONAL TIPS FOR PREVENTING SILICOSIS:

  • Keep work areas clean and free of dust.
  • Wear long sleeves, pants, and closed-toe shoes when working in dusty areas.
  • Shower and change clothes after work.
  • Avoid smoking. Smoking can increase your risk of developing silicosis.
  • Get regular medical checkups. Your doctor can monitor your health and look for early signs of silicosis.

ADDITIONAL ADVICE

You should look at ways of limiting the amount of dust you could make before you start work. For example, you could:

  • use the right size of building materials so less cutting or preparation is needed
  • use a less powerful tool – eg a block splitter can sometimes be used instead of a cut-off saw

It should be noted that these methods are quite temporary and using water, or extraction, stops the dust from going airborne which is a long-term solution.

The use of water dampens down dust clouds. However, it needs to be used correctly. This means enough water for the whole time that the work is being done.

Just wetting an area of ground before cutting does not work.

For further help and advice on dust suppression and preventing silicosis in the workplace, we would be happy to help.

Simply get in touch with the team to discuss our workplace solutions.