Silica dust is a growing concern in many sectors, particularly construction, mining and engineering. HSE commissioned estimates it was the main factor responsible for the deaths of more than 500 construction workers in 2005. More alarmingly, silica dust has been linked with serious lung diseases, including lung cancer.
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What is silica dust?
Silica is a naturally occurring substance found in many types of rocks, sand and clay. Just to give you a quick idea of the varying amounts present in different elements: sandstone has over 70% silica and granite can contain up to 15-30%. Silica is also a major component found in construction materials like concrete, tiles, bricks and mortar.
With most construction tasks, a lot of dust is generated – e.g., during cutting, grinding, drilling and polishing. Unfortunately, it only takes a small amount of dust to deeply invade the lungs, as it is very fine – so fine that it cannot be spotted in normal, everyday lighting. We refer to this fine dust as RCS or respirable crystalline silica -something which has been associated with increasing rates of lung cancer.
A recent study revealed that silica exposure is associated with lung cancer even at low exposure levels.
Is silica dust the new asbestos?
Exposure to tiny airborne silica particles occurs frequently in a number of industrial and occupational settings. For instance, workers handling portable masonry saws must cut materials like brick and concrete. If the resulting silica is inhaled (which it is, in most cases), it only takes a small number of particles to deeply penetrate the lungs to increase the risk of lung cancer.
It’s estimated that nearly 800 people die a year from lung cancer caused by silica exposure at work. There are about half a million people exposed to silica dust at work in the UK, and probably around 5 million in the European Union.
Silica has been dubbed as “the next asbestos” by many health experts.
Construction workers, for example, are actually 100x more likely to die from a preventable occupational disease than from an accident. Approximately, 12,000 deaths each year in UK industry are linked to dust and chemical exposure.
More disturbing statistics: An estimated 600,000 workers are exposed to silica in the UK. IOSH estimate that in Europe, as a whole, 81% of those exposed are employed in construction or in manufacturing products used in that industry.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) stated in one of their reports that “silica is the biggest risk to construction workers after asbestos.”
In another UK report, 230 people developed lung cancer due to past exposure to silica dust in an occupational setting – the greater the long-term exposure, the greater the risk.
How can we reduce exposure to silica dust?
Adequate ventilation while working in a commercial, industrial or any occupational setting where airborne silica dust is found, is the key to preventing exposure.
As a leading manufacturer of dust extractors, Airbench products help you become COSHH-compliant, while protecting your workers from serious health hazards like lung cancer.
In this day and age, and especially when you consider the kind of work people must do across multiple industries, high quality dust extraction truly matters. AirBench offers a leading range of Downdraught Benches which act as a powerful dust collection system. Requiring no manual input, this can keep you safe from silica dust throughout the project. Combined with our VertEx Cross-Draught Systems and booths, you have a fully extracted space where you can work safely without any risk of contamination.
Finally, our industry-leading Air Cleaning Systems capture any last remnants of dust from your workspace or project area, making the it completely safe for all kinds of labour-intensive work.