Cancer risk heightened by exposure to silica dust

Monday, 16 October, 2017

Cancer risk heightened by exposure to silica dust

Tradies need to be more aware of cancer risks stemming from silica dust exposure, according to Cancer Council Australia.

Estimates suggest that over 230 lung cancer cases in Australia each year are caused by exposure to silica dust in the workplace.

It is also estimated that around 600,000 Australian workers each year are exposed to silica dust at work, including miners, construction workers, farmers, engineers, bricklayers and road construction workers, as well as those working in demolition.

“Silica is surprisingly common — it’s found in stone, rock, sand, gravel and clay, as well as bricks, tiles, concrete and some plastic materials,” said Terry Slevin, chair, Occupational and Environmental Cancer Risk Committee Cancer Council Australia.

“When these materials are worked on or cut, silica is released as a fine dust that’s 100 times smaller than a grain of sand. It’s so small you can’t see it — but if you breathe it in, in some cases it can lead to lung cancer.”

Workers often cut granite kitchen benchtops, tiles or bricks, or demolish materials without proper protection in place. Cancer cases in these types of situation can easily be prevented through dust prevention or control, adequate ventilation or personal respiratory protection.

“Of around 11,000 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed each year in Australia over 8000 are due to smoking, 230 due to silica dust and 130 due to diesel exhaust. These are preventable, and given the poor survival rate for lung cancer it is so vital we do all we can to prevent them,” said Slevin.

It is the responsibility of both employers and employees to act now to reduce the number of silica-related lung cancer cases.

“Employers have a legal responsibility to provide a safe place to work. Likewise, those working with silica need to take responsibility for their future health, get informed and protect themselves,” said Slevin.

“If you are regularly demolishing materials, sandcasting, sandblasting, bricklaying or cutting stone, tiles or bricks as a part of your job, you are at risk, so you need to get informed today.”

To coincide with Safe Work Month, Cancer Council Australia has published a new fact sheet on silica and cancer risk, available at

Proper protection is more than simply wearing a dust mask. It includes on-site ventilation, using specialised tools with appropriate blades and dust suppression features, and a range of other important safeguards explained in the new fact sheet.

“While the risk is far greater for people who might be exposed to silica dust in their paid employment, we also recommend home renovators and DIY warriors follow the guidelines to reduce the prospect of inhaling silica dust,” Slevin said.

During Safe Work Month, Australian workers are also urged to be more aware of other risks in the workplace.

Other major risks include UV exposure, diesel fumes, asbestos and second-hand tobacco smoke. In addition, welding fumes were recently added to the list of class 1 carcinogens.

Image credit: © Studio

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