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The killer in the kitchen and bathroom

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Exposure standards reviewed

It’s not often you read about Safe Work Australia agreeing to halve the workplace exposure standard for anything. That is exactly what they have done for respirable crystalline silica to a time-weighted average of 0.05mg/m3 over an eight-hour day.

Throughout 2019 WorkSafe Victoria alone has accepted 102 claims for silica-related diseases from 28 in 2018. WorkSafe Victoria has visited more than 930 workplaces and issued 270 compliance notices ordering employers to improve their safeguards against exposure to silica dust.


Why is silica hazardous?

Silica, often referred to as quartz, is a very common mineral. It is found in many materials common on construction and oil & gas sites, and refurbishment work includes soil, sand, concrete, masonry, rock, granite, and landscaping materials.

The dust created by cutting, grinding, drilling or otherwise disturbing these materials can contain crystalline silica particles. Silica dust particles are very small and not visible to the eye. The respirable silica dust causes lung disease and lung cancer. It only takes a very small amount of airborne silica dust to create a health hazard.



Illnesses resulting from exposure to silica dust [breathing in the dust]?

Silicosis is a disabling, irreversible, and sometimes fatal lung disease. When a worker inhales crystalline silica, the lungs react by developing hard nodules and scarring around the trapped silica particles. If the nodules become too large, breathing becomes difficult, and death can result.

Inhaling crystalline silica can lead to serious, sometimes fatal illnesses, including silicosis, lung cancer, tuberculosis (in those with silicosis), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In addition, silica exposure has been linked to other illnesses including renal disease and other cancers. In 1996, the World Health Organization – International Agency on Cancer Research (IARC) identified crystalline silica as a “known human carcinogen” (they reaffirmed this position in 2009).


Australia’s actions 2020

Governments are urging employers to take a precautionary approach and limit exposure levels below 0.02mg/m3, to prevent workers developing silicosis or lung cancer.

Anyone working with engineered stone typically used in kitchens and bathrooms are at risk due to the high concentration of silica and the process of fitting and aligning products during installation. Dry cutting is particularly hazardous.

Look for the revised Crystalline Silica standards, technical fact sheets and guidance information from Safe Work Australia and the relevant State safety regulators once updated in 2020.