Silica dust – a cancer risk you cannot see

construction site with circular saw

Silica dust and a condition called silicosis is hot in the news right now, with an explosion of silicosis and other respiratory illnesses surfacing around Australia. The Cancer Council published a great article back in 2017 that highlights the dangers of silica dust and ways of reducing exposure to it. Below is most of the article, at the bottom of the page you’ll find a link to the full article.

It is 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.

Terry Slevin, Chair, Occupational and Environmental Cancer Risk Committee Cancer Council Australia, said that many Australian DIY home renovators may also not be aware of the invisible cancer risks lurking around when their bathroom tiles or new granite kitchen bench top are being cut to size by themselves or contractors.

“Silica is surprisingly common – it’s found in stone, rock, sand, gravel and clay, as well as bricks, tiles, concrete and some plastic materials. 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.

“We continually see workers cutting granite kitchen bench tops, tiles or bricks, or demolishing materials without proper protection in place, which is a very real concern.

“We estimate that silica dust is causing over 230 lung cancer cases each year across the country. These are cancer cases that could have easily been 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 8,000 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.”

Mr Slevin said that it was the responsibility of both employers and employees to act now to reduce the number of silica related lung cancer cases.

For the full article please visit the Cancer Council’s website.

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