As a tradie, you’ll come across your fair share of risks. When you’re working with stone, sand, clay, bricks, tiles, concrete and other materials, you can be exposed to silica dust which (as you may know) can present a hazard if it’s not properly dealt with.
Reports have found potential links between silica dust and lung cancer, making it more important than ever to understand how you can protect yourself. In this guide from Technique Tools, we break down what silica dust is, what it does and how you can avoid it.
What is silica dust?
Silica dust (or crystalline silica) is a fine dust that is released during interactions with certain materials. It’s so fine that humans can’t see it and therefore are usually unaware they’re breathing it in; estimates suggest one particle is 100 times smaller than a grain of sand!
It’s also one of the most abundant elements on earth, coming in second only to oxygen. This naturally-occurring element is one of the main components in things like sand and rocks, and doesn’t present a risk until disturbed.
Why is silica dust bad for you?
Inhaling silica dust can be seriously harmful for the lungs. It’s classed as a group 1 carcinogenic and could lead to the development of any of the following illnesses:
- Lung cancer
- Silicosis (scarring and stiffening of the lungs)
- Kidney disease
- Breathing problems
- Inflammation of lung tissue
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
When carrying out construction work such as cutting, drilling, grinding and polishing, the minuscule particles can get deep into the lungs. Over time, this could have extremely harmful effects on workers. In 2011, around 587,000 workers in Australia were exposed to silica dust as they worked and estimations show approximately 5758 of those people would go on to develop lung cancer at some point in their life.
How to avoid silica dust risks
Silica is one of earth’s most important elements and it’s only natural that those working in certain industries will come into contact with it. Since we can’t ban silica, the next best thing is to take steps to minimise the associated risks.
This is the responsibility of both employers and employees, and there are a few things you can do. They include:
- Substituting non-silica materials where possible, to remove the risk entirely
- Controlling the dust through suppression techniques or local exhaust ventilation
- Working with products that control dust, such as the IQ Dust Control Bricksaw & Arbortech Allsaw, which captures 99.5% of silica dust
- Reducing the amount of time spent on jobs with a high exposure to silica dust
- Using water spray to reduce concentrations of silica dust in the air
- Always wearing a respirator when in an environment with high concentrations of silica dust