What is Crystalline Silica?
Crystalline Silica is a material commonly found in soil, sand and stone. It is also used in manufacturing construction products like sandstone, manufactured stone, shale, bricks, mortar and concrete. Crystalline Silica can also be present in quartz-containing stone and therefore can be encountered during excavation or tunnelling work.
Crystalline Silica is considered a hazardous chemical or material according to the NSW Work Health and Safety Roadmap list of priority chemicals. Under the Roadmap, the NSW Government has set a 20 per cent target to reduce serious illness and injuries as a result of exposure to hazardous chemicals and materials by 2022.
Why is Crystalline Silica Dust considered hazardous?
Crystalline Silica becomes hazardous when the particles of silica dust are fine enough to be inhaled into the lungs. When it is able to be inhaled, it is then referred to as ‘Respirable Crystalline Silica Dust’. Particles are considered respirable when they are smaller than 7 microns (1 micron=1/1000mm) in diameter.
Respirable Crystalline Silica becomes airborne when materials containing Crystalline Silica are cut, drilled or sanded and fine dust is created. Exposures in the workplace can also occur when using compressed air or dry sweeping to clean, rather than using a dust extractor or vacuum with a HEPA filter, or wet cleaning.
Inhaling crystalline silica can lead to serious, sometimes fatal illnesses including silicosis. Silicosis is the incurable scarring of the lungs (fibrosis) which results in loss of lung function and continues to develop over time even if the exposure has ceased.
Silica exposure has also been linked to other illnesses including lung cancer, tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, renal disease as well as some other cancers.
Reducing the risk of exposure
According to industry standards laid out in the WHS Regulation 2017, people conducting business must ensure that no person at the workplace is exposed to a substance above its exposure standard (cl 49) and must reduce exposures so far as is reasonably practicable.
Applying adequate controls such as minimising the generation of airborne dust can reduce hazardous exposures and prevent illness in the workplace.
One control measure that can help to minimise risk of exposure is to use dust removal systems on tools, such as a commercial standard dust extractor with a HEPA filter. Coastal Hire has recently added a Bosch Wet/Dry Dust Extractor to our hire catalogue for this purpose. This model is M-Class which means it complies with industry standards. The automatic filter cleaning (AFC) ensures constant and easily adjustable suction power for continuous work progress by automatically cleaning the filter every 15 seconds.