According to the World Health Organisation every year in both developed and developing countries overexposure to dusts causes disease, temporary and permanent disabilities and deaths. Controlling respiratory risks and protecting staff has become an urgent issue for many industries, especially where silica or coal types of dust are present.
Respirable crystalline silica (RCS) is one of the most toxic and dangerous dusts due to its prevalence, small size of particles and irreversible damage it can cause in human lungs.
Silica dust can be found in some stone, rock, sand, gravel and clay with quartz being the most common form. Engineered stone contains up to 90 per cent silica. Respirable silica dust is released during high intensity processes such as cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, polishing, scabbling and crushing of silica-containing materials. Working with bricks, tiles, asphalt, cement, concrete and even some types of plastic materials can also expose you to silica.
Such exposure increases your risk of developing lung cancer, and in long term cases may lead to silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease.
Silicosis is the oldest and the most common occupational lung disease worldwide. It occurs everywhere, but is especially common in developing countries.
Silicosis is currently in the spotlight in Australia, where multiple cases of accelerated silicosis have been diagnosed amongst young tradesmen in Queensland, NSW and Victoria late 2018. Increasingly, more silicosis cases are coming to light in China, India and Pakistan.
The recent surge in the occupational lung illnesses around the world is forcing the OHS bodies and governments to review the industry practices associated with respiratory risks. The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) introduced and began to enforce a silica rule in 2018. THe rule lowered the permissible levels of exposure for all industries to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air during an 8-hour shift.