A must-read for tradies: Silica dust questions answered

24th February, 2020

Author: Festool Australia Marketing Team

Please note: We've included links to websites that we believe provide credible and accurate information. However we can't guarantee the information on these websites is up-to-date and we don't endorse them.

Q: What is silica?

A: “Silica is one of the most common naturally occurring elements on the planet. Silica is found in two forms; crystalline or non-crystalline. Sand and quartz are common examples of crystalline silica.” Source / read more

Q: Where does silica dust come from?

A: It’s the dust generated from materials that contain crystalline silica such as stone, rock, sand, bricks, tiles and concrete. Source / read more


Q: Why is silica dust dangerous?

A: “Materials that contain crystalline silica are not hazardous unless they are disturbed, generating small-sized particles that can get in your lungs”. Once the dust is in your lungs, it can lead to a number of life-threatening and irreversible illnesses. Source / read more


Q: What can silica dust exposure cause?

A: Lung cancer, silicosis, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Source / read more


Q: What is silicosis?

A: It's an irreversible scarring and stiffening of the lungs. There are three types of the disease:

1) Chronic silicosis, which usually occurs after 10 or more years of exposure to crystalline silica at relatively low concentrations;
2) Accelerated silicosis, which results from exposure to high concentrations of crystalline silica and develops 5 to 10 years after the initial exposure; and
3) Acute silicosis, which occurs where exposure concentrations are the highest and can cause symptoms to develop within a few weeks to 4 or 5 years after the initial exposure.
Source / read more


Q: Can silica dust cause cancer?

A: Yes.

Q: How much silica dust is harmful?  

A: It usually takes many years of silica exposure to develop silicosis, but “extremely high exposures across the short-term can cause it to develop rapidly.” Source / read more


Q: What are the symptoms of silicosis?

A: Early on, there are no noticeable symptoms. As the disease progresses however, the first symptoms surface which are often a shortness of breath, a cough, occasional chest pain, loss of appetite and minor fatigue. These can increase over time as the disease worsens. Source / read more


Q: Does silica dust leave the lungs?

A: “The only way to get the retained dust out of the lungs is either to pass it on to other cells or cough it up.” If silicosis is developed, there is no way to reverse it. Source / read more


Q: What are the silica dust regulations or rules?

A: They vary State by State. Best place to start is Safe Work Australia. This information is very important for both employers and employees alike to know.


Q: Can you get fined for silica dust?

A: If you don’t meet your State’s regulations when working with high-risk materials, yes you can get fined.


Q: Can you see silica dust?

A: No. The particles are 100 times smaller than a grain of sand.


Q: How far can silica dust travel?

A: Silica dust can definitely travel and the main thing to know is that other workers around you or the public can be exposed to it as a result of unsafe work practices. “Silica dust less than 10 μm is light enough and has enough surface area to stay airborne long enough to travel beyond occupational zones.” Source / read more


Q: Who is exposed to silica dust?

A: Anyone working in a trade that does the following:
  • Breaking, crushing, grinding or milling material containing silica dust
  • Sand blasting or casting
  • Paving, surfacing or cement finishing
  • Bricklaying
  • Demolition work
  • Road construction
  • Stonemasonry
  • Mineral ore-treating processes
  • Manufacture of glass, ceramics, brick, concrete, tile, metals or machinery


Q: How can silica dust be measured?

A: By an Occupational Hygienist.


Q: What silica monitoring is required for workers and how do I go about it?

A: “Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulation 50 states air monitoring by an occupational hygienist must be conducted every 12-18 months if there is health safety risk or if there is potential of exceeding the exposure limit.” Source / read more


Q: What health monitoring is required for workers potentially exposed to silica?

A: “WHS Regulations state that health monitoring must be provided to workers who are continually working with silica dust and there is a significant risk to the worker's health.” View Safe Work Australia’s ‘crystalline silica health monitoring guide’ for information on monitoring workers. Source / read more


Q: How big is the silica dust issue in Australia?

A: It’s estimated that 600,000 Australians are exposed to silica dust in the workplace each year and that 200-230 Australians develop lung cancer each year as a result of silica dust. Source / read more



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