Stonemason silicosis: as high as 30% according to a recent report

CleanSpace Technology Pty Ltd

By Bronwyn Crabb, Sales Director Asia Pacific, CleanSpace Technology
Monday, 26 April, 2021



Stonemason silicosis: as high as 30% according to a recent report

A 2020 report, prepared by Monash University in collaboration with WorkSafe Victoria, has concerning statistics about the prevalence of silicosis among Victorian stonemasons, making the need for compliance and more powerful respiratory safeguards for workers more important than ever.

Monash University established a ‘Screening and Disease Registry’ to report on Victorian stonemason workers’ health, treatment and recovery outcomes. As of July 2020, 456 workers have agreed to take part in the screening project and/or the disease registry, with 36 being the median age of workers at the time of assessment. Among these 456 workers, 133 (29%) cases of silicosis were identified. Of the 133 workers with a diagnosis, 102 had simple silicosis and 31 had more severe, complicated silicosis.

Findings

The study found that the reported use of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) has increased slightly; however, many workers reported ceasing RPE use after wet cutting processes were implemented. Further, opening a window/door and ventilation in the ceiling were the most common types of ventilation reported, which is unlikely to be effective in removing dust from the worker’s breathing zone.

Other key findings included:

  • Of the 324 workers in the stonemasons’ screening project, 254 (78%) were referred for further follow-up.
  • There were 211 (65%) workers who had clinical abnormalities (abnormal chest X-ray, and/or abnormal lung function, and/or significantly impacted respiratory function, and/or other symptoms or signs).
  • Of the workers who were referred for further follow-up, 59 (26%) have a current silicosis diagnosis and 26 (11%) have possible silicosis.
     

In summary, this research has found a large burden of silica-associated disease in stonemasons working with artificial stone and demonstrated the need for ongoing screening of these workers and further research into the most effective screening methods to be used. These findings are also likely to have implications for silica-exposed workers in other industry sectors.

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Silica dust

Silica dust is harmful when inhaled into your lungs. It is 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, so small it can be inhaled without knowing. Respirable crystalline silica exposure can cause silicosis, a debilitating and irreversible lung condition that can cut short careers, reduce quality of life and lead to death. Respirable silica is also linked to lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease.

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Respiratory protection available

Disposable masks vs powered air purifying respirators

When looking to protect yourself or your workers from any airborne contaminants, powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs) offer high and reliable protection, far exceeding disposable masks. Compared to disposable masks, PAPRs are high-protection, reusable devices with economic advantages, as the annual cost of replacing disposables stacks up. Disposable masks are well known for causing fogging and discomfort, leading to low compliance, frequent stopping or mask changes.

To guard against silica exposure, state and territory regulators have moved to recommending workers wear powered respiratory protection using a minimum of a P2 filter, though it is certainly worth considering respirators that meet and exceed these requirements with a P3 filter. Under the standards, all worn tight-fitting respirators (regardless of whether it’s a disposable mask or powered respirator) must achieve a correct fit to ensure the wearer is protected.

©CleanSpace Technology

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The report is titled ‘Silica-associated lung disease health screening research: phase one final report’ and is available at www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/resources/silica-associated-lung-disease-health-screening-research-phase-one-final-report. Phase two is currently underway, with the final report due in September.

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Top image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Anselm

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