What is silica dust, and where is it found?

Silica dust (crystalline silica) is just one of the many air contaminants that poses a health risk to those who are exposed to it without adequate respiratory protection.

Found in stone, rock, sand, gravel and clay, silica is commonly in products such as reconstituted stone, granite and sandstone along with building materials like bricks, mortar, tiles and concrete.

According to the Cancer Council, due to the microscopic size of the silica dust particles, exposure can lead to the development of lung cancer, silicosis (an irreversible scarring and stiffening of the lungs), kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The mandatory limit for silica dust exposure in Australia is 0.05mg/m3 averaged over an eight-hour day (except in Tasmania where it is 0.1mg/m3). WorkSafe Victoria recommends that employers take a precautionary approach and reduce employees’ exposure to below 0.02 mg/m3 as an 8-hour time weighted average.

Health and Safety laws in Australia stipulate that employers have a duty of care to ensure the health and safety of their employees and control the risks associated with their work, and workers themselves must take sensible care of their own health and safety, following any reasonable instructions and health and safety policies.

In order to control exposure, it is recommended that employers provide tools with water suppression, use on tool extraction, and provide fit for purpose respirators. They must also carry out air monitoring and provide annual health checks if exposure to crystalline silica is likely to affect employees’ health.