Silica – exposure risk for engineered stone benchtop workers
There have been reports in the media recently about the impact that the increased use of composite stone products in kitchens and other household benchtops has had on workers in the stone benchtop cutting industry.
New composite products may have up to 93% or higher crystalline quartz silica content compared to natural stone products (40% silica)1.
Silica dust is generated when materials containing silica are cut, sanded, polished, drilled or blasted. When this dust is inhaled into the lungs it causes silicosis, a disease which leads to scarring, swelling and fluid build-up in the lungs, interfering with a person’s ability to breathe.
While it usually takes decades of breathing in quartz containing dust to develop silicosis, accelerated silicosis can occur after exposure over 1 to 10 years, but usually 3 – 10 years. All silicosis can be prevented by strict and appropriate work practices to control silica dust generation2.
Who is at risk?
Silica is found in many materials common on construction sites, including soil, concrete, masonry, rock, granite and landscaping materials. If you cut, sand, drill, blast or polish materials which contain silica, or you work near others performing these tasks, you may be exposed to silica dust.
Controlling the risks
To minimise your exposure to silica dust you should:
- suppress dust with water
- use appropriate air ventilation and extraction equipment
- wear appropriate protective equipment including dust masks and air filters. Disposable paper dust masks are not effective.
A comprehensive list of ways to reduce exposure to silica dust is available on the SafeWorkSA website.
What to do if you are a worker
If you work in an environment where you are exposed to silica dust, speak to your employer about how you can reduce your exposure. If you are concerned you have been exposed to silica dust, consult your doctor and ask for an assessment at a Thoracic Clinic. Early detection and control of further exposure to silicosis is important and is likely to lead to better outcomes.
If you have been diagnosed with silicosis please contact us on 08 8233 2545 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to start your claim. A specialist team within ReturnToWorkSA will work closely with you to manage your claim and arrange for you to receive care and support to best manage your condition.
Useful links for workers:
- ABC’s 7.30 program: Deadly Dust
- Lung Foundation Australia: Silica Fact sheet
- Cancer Council: Silica dust
What to do if you are an employer
You have a responsibility to manage your workers’ risk of exposure to silica dust and providing them with information, training, supervision and protective equipment and having a management plan in place to control exposure limits.
You are also responsible for monitoring the health on an ongoing basis of those who may be exposed to silica dust.
Useful links for employers:
- SafeWork SA: Managing respirable crystalline silica exposures
- Master Builders Association: Safety Update
- Safe Work Australia: Crystalline silica health monitoring
- RACP Accelerated Silicosis: Frequently asked questions
- HIA: Silica dust hazards and solutions
1 Adelaide Exposure Science and Health, Engineered Stone Benchtops Projects Factsheet