Occupational Health and Safety Update: Danger of Contracting Silicosis

There is a possibility that workers on building sites can contract the deadly disease, Silicosis which is a form of Pneumoconioses. Silicosis is developed over time by the inhalation of airborne crystalline silica dust in sufficiently high concentrations over a period of time. It is a serious lung condition which results from an accumulation of dust in the lungs and the tissue’s reaction to the presence of this dust.

Silicosis occurs when fibrous tissue forms around the dust particles that have entered the lungs. This fibrous tissue does not allow for the easy exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, resulting in obstructed breathing, a problem for the worker.

Silica is the most common element found in the earth’s crust and is the main component of beach sand and granite. And the smaller the particle the more dangerous it is to human health.

Source : Ben Salter

Workers most vulnerable to contracting silicosis include underground mining, tunnelling and excavation workers, workers involved in extraction and cutting of quartzite, gneiss, granite and slate, workers involved in brick making or the manufacture of pottery, porcelain, refractory materials and siliceous abrasives, road construction workers and demolition workers.

The only way to prevent silicosis is to avoid dust exposure but of course this is not always possible. Wherever possible, less toxic substances should be used instead of silica sand. Tools causing dust such as saws and grinders should be fitted with dust extraction devices.

Workers should also use tools fitted with a water attachment to suppress dust and minimise its inhalation.Spraying water in work processes such as grinding or drilling reduces dust emission by a life-saving 75%.

Another important consideration is that of good housekeeping on site. Some of the measures that can be employed are vacuuming and wet sweeping rather than dry sweeping.

Posters and signs should be placed around the hazard to warn workers of the presence of free silica. These should be clearly visible and unobstructed.

PPE is another level of protection that workers should not neglect. Respiratory Protective Equipment is a last resort of protection but it can still minimise the harm done by the dangerous particles. Some examples are disposable masks or respirators which supply clean air for particularly high concentrations of dust. This PPE must be maintained, cleaned regularly and checked. Workers should be provided with these at no cost to them and should also receive the necessary training on its proper use. Workers with a beard should be provided with a respirator with a hood or helmet because dust masks will not be effective in protecting their respiratory system.

While PPE are important, as are all levels of protection, these preventive measures should be incorporated as a whole and not implemented in isolation. It is best to combine various measures together to ensure maximum protection.

Health care professionals should be consulted every two years for a chest x-ray especially if the worker is exposed to silica dust as part of their daily activity.