What is Silica Dust?

What is Silica Dust?Silica dust is one of the most dangerous health hazards in the construction industry after asbestos. HSE commissioned reports estimate it was responsible for the death of over 500 construction workers in 2005.

If you have heavy and prolonged exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS), you are at risk of lung cancer and other serious respiratory diseases.

What is silica dust? 

Silica dust is a substance which you will find  in construction materials such as bricks, concrete, mortar and tiles. When cutting these materials, you generate dust, some fine enough to get deep into your lungs. We know this as RCS, but it is commonly called silica dust.

Did you know sandstone is made up of more than 70% silica?

What is silicosis?

Silicosis is an irreversible lung disease caused by high exposure to silica dust. Symptoms can include weakness and tiredness, a persistent cough and persistent shortness of breath. These symptoms may become more severe if the condition gets worse.

Take a look at the advice about silicosis from the NHS here.

How far does silica dust travel? 

Silica dust can be lifted more than 700 meters into the air and it can stay in the air for up to 12 days because it is so small.

How to improve lung health 

If you are in the construction industry working with materials that contain silica,  there are controls to protect your health…

  • Use water or on-tool extraction provided to keep dust out of the air
  • Keep your tools and equipment in good order
  • Avoid dry sweeping
  • Wear your facemask to protect you from any remaining dust – a Face Fit Test will ensure the respiratory protective equipment you use fits correctly. This will protect you against any hazards.

Read more on controlling the risks to improve lung health.

Is silica similar to asbestos?

The main difference between silica and asbestos is how you are exposed to the fibres or dust. Inhaling asbestos is very easy, whereas silica is found in solid substances, which you can become exposed to if working in the construction industry when you are cutting these materials.

Silica will only impact those who work in specific job roles, whereas asbestos can affect us all, even if we haven’t worked in a traditional asbestos industry.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral composed of flexible fibres that are resistant to electricity, heat and corrosion, and it was widely used in industries like construction until the late 1990s.

If you are directly in contact with asbestos due to your occupation, this is when you need to be aware of its danger and how to avoid them.

We are a UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA) accredited training provider and offer the UKATA Asbestos Awareness training course. Completing this course will give you a greater understanding of the dangers of asbestos and how it affects the industry.

What are the three main types of asbestos? 

The most commonly used asbestos fibres in the UK are…

  • Blue (crocidolite), often found in ceiling tiles, insulation boards and electrical or telecommunication wires.
  • Brown (amosite), often used in cement sheets, plumbing insulation and electrical insulation.
  • White (chrysotile), often used in cement, brake pads/linings and roofing materials.

Which other substances are hazardous on a construction site?

Hazardous substances can come in the form of dust, chemicals and fumes for example. Each could cause harm to humans, animals and the environment. Read our blog article on hazardous substances in the construction industry for more useful information.

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