Watering down the risks of silica dust in the workplace

Wednesday, 30 June, 2021 | Supplied by: Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists Inc.

Exposure to silica dust is estimated to cause 230 lung cancer cases in Australia each year. Long-term silica dust exposure has the potential to cause fatal lung disease, including silicosis and lung cancer. Tanya Buchanan, CEO of Cancer Council Australia, said the lack of general awareness of the health risks associated with exposure to silica dust, the lack of safe and effective work practices, and inadequate use of control measures are far too common across the country.

“600,000 Australians are exposed to silica dust in the workplace, and products such as artificial stone benchtops are able to contain upwards of 90% silica. Silica dust can be 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, meaning workers can breathe it in without even knowing. Over time this causes serious lung damage and can lead to lung cancer, silicosis, chronic pulmonary disease and kidney disease,” said Buchanan.

Cancer Council Australia has launched a campaign to raise awareness about the harms of exposure to silica dust. The campaign encourages Australian workers to use adequate protection measures when exposed to silica dust. The new resources created by Cancer Council Australia and funded by a grant from the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists Foundation encourage Australians working in high-risk industries and roles to be aware of and undertake the measures that can reduce their risk of exposure.

“We want to make sure any Australians working in environments in which they may be exposed to silica dust are aware of both the health risks and the work health and safety processes they need to follow to protect themselves. Following these processes can help to reduce the number of Australians developing lung cancer and other serious health problems from exposure to silica dust,” said Buchanan.

Such health and safety processes include substituting products containing high levels of silica for less hazardous materials and ensuring effective personal protective equipment is worn, including a respirator to filter the silica out from air that is breathed in. All Australians exposed to silica dust in the workplace should also use water-based cutting methods, with proper ventilation to remove silica that does become airborne.

“Occupational cancers are preventable. That’s why we’re urging the Australian Government to introduce a national mandatory limit for silica dust exposure in Australia which would restrict exposure to just 0.02 mg/m3 over an eight-hour period. Reducing the current allowable limit of 0.05 mg/m3 will protect the lives of Australian workers and is a step in the right direction towards a cancer-free future,” said Buchanan.

Workers who are concerned about their health, or believe they may have been exposed to a cancer-causing agent such as silica dust, are urged to speak to a doctor.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Gajus

Online: www.respfit.org.au/
Phone: 03 9338 1635
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