Crystalline silica is a natural mineral found in construction materials such as bricks, concrete, tiles, mortar, reconstituted stone and sandstone. Reconstituted stone such as engineered stone benchtops contains up to 95% crystalline silica, which is considered very high.
The amount of crystalline silica present will vary depending on the material. You can check the safety data sheet (SDS) or other information from a supplier to see if a product contains crystalline silica.
Cutting, grinding, jackhammering, drilling or polishing products containing crystalline silica will release very fine dust particles into the air. This means workers in both the construction and demolition industry may be exposed to crystalline silica dust.
When inhaled, silica dust leads to deadly diseases, including:
Silicosis occurs when crystalline silica dust scars the lungs. Symptoms of this disease include shortness of breath, coughing, weight loss and fatigue. Sufferers of silicosis can require a lung transplant or die.
If using concrete, hebel, or mortar, employers must eliminate* the risk associated with exposure to crystalline silica. If exposure cannot be eliminated, then reducing risk by providing the highest level of protection available outlined in the hierarchy of control set out in Part 4.1 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations).
If an employer has applied any of the above, or a combination, and a risk still exists then administrative constraints must be applied. Employers can do this by:
Respirable crystalline silica must not exceed 0.05mg/m3 (eight hour time weighted average) according to the workplace exposure standards.
It is recommended by WorkSafe Victoria that employees are not exposed to levels above .02mg/m3 as a time weighted average, as a precautionary measure to prevent silicosis and minimise the risk of lung cancer.
Employers must carry out atmospheric monitoring of crystalline silica supplied to or generated at the employer's workplace if:
If exposure to crystalline silica is probable to harmfully affect an employees health the employers must provide health monitoring services.
Workplace legislation is subject to differ from state to state. For more information on your states legislation, and controlling crystalline silica exposure in your workplace, visit Safe Work Australia.
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