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Silicosis: What is it, and how can it be prevented?

09/09/2020

Silicosis: What is it, and how can it be prevented?

A construction site can be a risky place. We are aware of the common hazards that we see daily but what about the dangers you can’t see? We’re talking about respirable crystalline silica dust (RCS).

There are serious health and safety concerns emerging from the exposure of silica dust for those who work in the construction industry, so we want our tradies to be aware of this threat so they can protect themselves and their workmates on-site.

 

So, what is RCS, and why is it dangerous?

RCS is found in products such as stone, brick, rock, concrete, asphalt, and mortar – common materials used in the engineering of kitchen, bathroom, and laundry stone benchtops. These materials are cut, ground, sanded, and polished, and through these methods, fine dust is released, known as RCS.

This dust is extremely harmful when inhaled, and high exposure can result in significant health risks, including Accelerated Silicosis – an aggressive respiratory disease that scars the lungs and causes progressive respiratory failure. This disease is dangerous amongst the construction industry, as workers could be exposed to silica dust inhalation on-site, without being aware of it.

 

What can be done to reduce the risk?

It is important to understand the risks associated with exposure to high levels of RCS so that employers can make necessary efforts to protect their workers. WorkSafe New Zealand has outlined several measures that employers can take to minimise exposure, and ultimately mitigate risk:

 

Substituting materials

Using alternative materials that contain a lower silica content.

 

Isolating work areas

Isolate work areas that are likely to produce RCS exposure with physical barriers or computer numerical control (CNC) machines to contain the dust

 

Using appropriate equipment

Using dust collecting tools with an H-class HEPA filter.

 

Water suppression

Wet cutting to prevent dust from becoming airborne.

 

Better cleaning practices

Regular cleaning practices such as low-pressure water cleaning, wet-wiping, and using an H-class HEPA-filtered vacuum are essential.

 

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Using appropriate respirators at all times that are fit-tested to each worker and cleaned after use. Wearing disposable coveralls or other protective clothing is crucial to ensure that the worker does not take these contaminants home with them.

 

Exposure monitoring

Employers should ensure that workers who may have been exposed to silica dust inhalation are health monitored. These workers should be tested in order to identify any changes in their health status due to exposure to hazardous contaminants.

 

The majority of confirmed silicosis cases report having no symptoms. Therefore it is crucial that your workers are educated on both the health and safety risks of RCS, and the measures that can be taken to prevent it.

 

No one knows the hazards of the job better than your workers. Let’s make sure they are aware of this safety concern, so we can get them home safely at the end of each day.

 

Want to know more? Get in touch with our friendly team at HazardCo today.

 

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