Silica: the new asbestos?
Many years ago, Asbestos was regarded as a harmless mineral with many beneficial uses. Today is a very different story, most all employers and workers know that asbestos must be handled with extreme care.
While the HSE and others continue to raise awareness about asbestos, the bigger battle is in raising awareness of how other commonly used substances can result in life-changing and life-ending illnesses.
What is silica?
It’s the basic component of sand and rock. It’s found in common materials like concrete, cement, mortar, tiles, granite, fill dirt, and top soil. Like asbestos fibres, fine silica dust can’t always be seen and can easily be inhaled.
Prolonged breathing of silica dust causes silicosis—the thickening and scarring of lung tissue. It can develop in a matter of months or mere weeks, leaving victims unable to breathe properly, and making them more susceptible to lung infections. Breathing silica dust can also cause lung cancer. The damage is permanent and there is no cure. The disease can kill.
Who is exposed to it?
Silica is so common that any workplace activity that creates dust can expose workers to the airborne particles. Dust can be created by grinding or otherwise breaking concrete; cutting brick or tiles; moving rock, gravel, or soil with high silica content; sweeping concrete dust; manufacturing stone products and ceramics; and sand blasting.
And, while silicosis is irreversible, it is preventable. Employers and workers need to be aware of the risks of silica and the steps they can take to protect themselves.