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Silica—the insidious workplace health hazard causing Silicosis

Environmental pollutants are more than annoying workplace by-products. Most are insidious, entering bodies slowly but cumulatively. These environmental hazards have a long latency periods and the outcomes can be devastating in the form of chronic diseases and even cancers—and for the workplace it can be equally disastrous in the form of legal complications.

Respirable crystalline silica (RCS) dust is but one common toxin posing a greater than average health risk to workers. 

While dust is everywhere, it's the physically smaller particles contained within it, that are hazardous to health. Contaminants less than 10 microns in diameter have the ability to penetrate deeply into lung tissue causing irreparable scarring and chronic symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing and chest pain. This resultant disease is known as Silicosis.

Where can silica be found?

Silica particles can be found in quartz, sand, stone, soil, granite, brick, cement, grout, mortar, bitumen and engineered stone products. 

What kind of workplaces and processes expose workers to the risk of silicosis?

Silica is widely encountered in extractive industries—in the manufacture of many concrete based building materials as well as widespread use in manufacturing processes. The number of Queensland workers potentially exposed is large. 


Typical leading industries include: 

  • Tunnelling 
  • Foundries 
  • Stonemasonry 
  • Cement manufacturing 
  • Power generation 
  • Brick and tile manufacturing 
  • Ceramics 
  • Construction, including granite grinding and polishing 
  • Metal polishing 
  • Architectural abrasive blasting 
  • Quarrying; and 
  • Mining

In 2004 the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission reduced the workplace exposure limit for respirable crystaline silica to 0.1mg/m3. This has been adopted into the Workplace Health and Safety Regulation (2011).

As an owner or manager of a workplace, it's your responsibility to ensure that your workers are safe, both now and into the future. Workplace Health and Safety regulations demand that conditions are appropriate at all times to mitigate the risks of exposure to health altering silica particles. 

How can I work out exposure to silica?

If your business operates in the listed industries above you need to know whether the occupational exposure levels of air contaminants are at on-going safe levels. 

Opira are leaders in the field of environmental air safety and offer state-of-the-art monitoring services for workplaces. Our consultants are experts in the field and can advise you on the best solution for your situation for both monitoring and minimising silica exposure as part of your environmental air contaminant control plan.

Find out more about silica and silicosis

Download our Silicosis fact sheet from our resources section now.

Contact Opira to speak with an expert about respirable crystalline silica and keeping your workplace healthy and free of legal complications.