Silicosis is a major danger to health faced by construction-site workers. Read more about our dust controls solutions and how to avoid silica dust health hazards on your work site.
26th August 2021
In Australia, and most of the Western world, safety risks on construction and industrial sites remain a highly topical and regulated issue. Most of us know of strict protocols that surround working in confined spaces, working at heights and performing hazardous manual tasks. It’s resoundingly positive that we have these safety standards, but we have to wonder if on-site health concerns lack the same emphasis.
Case in point: Silicosis, which is a modern occupational disease. Who has heard of it and who realises its severity as a current worksite risk? We, for one, do at RVT Group. We’re about to share some valuable information on Silicosis, as well as some solutions to aid Silicosis prevention. But first, let’s explore some background.
Silicosis is a lung disease that is caused by breathing in dust that contains silica. Medically speaking, it’s a type of pulmonary fibrosis. Symptoms usually appear several years after exposure. The disease is marked by scarring on the upper lobes of the lungs, which causes a variety of debilitating symptoms.
Silica and Silicosis
Silica is composed of Silicon Dioxide, which is a chemical compound commonly found in mineral ores like quartz, as well as sand, rock, stone and clay. To a lesser extent, silica may also be present in concrete, bricks, tiles and some plastic materials.
The specific cause of Silicosis is the dust from silica, which is small enough to enter airways. This is known as Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS). Most times, a person will be exposed to silica dust (and therefore at risk of developing RCS) when material containing silica is disrupted and dislodged. This is often caused by drilling, cutting, sanding, grinding or similar activities.
If you want to learn more about the dangers of silica dust in-depth (including employer responsibilities) you might like to review this comprehensive resource from RVT Group.
What happens if you inhale silica dust?
When you inhale silica dust you draw tiny pieces of crystalline silica into your breathing passages, where the dust settles deeply. Silica particles also have jagged edges which can become lodged in your lungs. Over time, silica dust that enters the lungs results in the formation of scar tissue.
This impairs the lung's ability to take in oxygen, which means the person suffering from Silicosis struggles to breathe. Now, you may be wondering: can Silicosis be cured? Unfortunately, there is no known cure for Silicosis.
There are a range of Silicosis symptoms, which are associated with the passing of time after exposure.
Known medically as ‘early symptoms’ these include:
‘Later symptoms’ include:
How much exposure to silica can cause Silicosis?
Silicosis is due to cumulative exposure to silica dust. Therefore, the more you are in contact with the toxic dust, the more the illness will take hold/the more severe it will become. Medical professionals define three stages/types of Silicosis.
Acute: Symptoms occur a few weeks up to two years after exposure to a large amount of silica.
Chronic: Issues may not show up until decades after exposure to low or moderate amounts of silica. Symptoms may be mild at first but slowly intensify. This is the most common type of Silicosis.
Accelerated: Symptoms of Silicosis are noticed about five to 10 years after heavy exposure to silica. These are known to exacerbate quickly.
What occupation causes Silicosis?
Due to typically high proximity to silica dust, there is a significant risk for people who work in construction, mining, masonry and similar occupations to develop Silicosis. This is just one reason why dust control on worksites is critical.
Occupations of these types may put you at higher risk of developing Silicosis:
Dust control solutions in Silicosis prevention
Now that we have looked at Silicosis as a disease, we can look at some measures for silicosis prevention. To ensure occupational health and safety (so that all workers can go home safely) we must find ways to control the hazard. In relation to Silicosis, this hazard is dust. During these works, workers are in extremely close proximity to the dust produced. If no control measures are in place, they will inhale the hazardous particles without even realising.
Dust has been identified as one of the main hazards facing on-site workers. This corresponds to not only Silicosis but to a range of other diseases. It is estimated that 39% of Australians are exposed to airborne hazards that can result in lung diseases such as Asthma, Cancer and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD).
There are different options available in dust control solutions, but which hazard control measures prove to be the most effective? RVT Group offers a wide range of suitable dust control solutions which are available to hire.
How can we control hazards in a workplace?
It is crucial to have dust extraction equipment on your construction or other worksites to suppress silica dust/other forms of toxic dust. When you hire equipment from RVT Group, you will help protect your workers from exposure to silica dust and other airborne emissions that arise from worksite tasks.
RVT believe that effective dust control can be managed in three easy steps:
Capture the hazard - position the dust extraction hood as close as possible to the activity to ensure the dust is captured at the source.
Contain the hazard - the immediate work area should be contained as much as possible to prevent dust/fumes from migrating and affecting other workers on-site or people nearby.
Control the hazard - negative pressure can be applied to prevent dust migration outside of the work area.
Dust collection, dust extraction units & dust filtration systems
In a general sense, dust extraction and filtration units are highly suitable dust suppression solutions for dealing with dust onsite. However, Silicosis and other health issues are related to hazardous dust, and this requires an extra level of attention.
Wherever possible, hazardous dust should be filtered rather than simply extracted from the work area. This ensures it is kept under complete control (including any potential emissions or particles migrating outside the work zone). This is why dust filtration systems are typically your solution for hazardous and toxic dusts such as that arising from silica, but there are other forms of equipment that can also assist/complement your overall hazard control measures.
Dustex equipment from RVT Group
Hazardous dust types require specialised equipment and at RVT we can procure equipment from the Dustex range for you to hire. A number of our Dustex products are certified for fine filtration and hazardous dust types, including mineral dust, ie. Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS). We also offer an optional Hepa filter to remove 99.9% of air pollutants, making our products ideal for sensitive environments.
The Dustex range includes:
Dust extraction units
HEPA filtration units
However, to ensure the best control measure solution is implemented (as applicable to your unique circumstances), we would strongly recommend that you phone us on 1300 086 248 to discuss your requirements. Ask about our FREE site assessment or FREE 3 day trial while you're on the call.
Should you or your personnel be unsure how to use a piece of equipment, we can provide demonstrations and training free of charge. This protects your workplace health and safety compliance and allows you to get the best and safest results from the equipment you hire.