Silicosis is a life limiting disease caused by exposure to crystalline silica - a natural mineral found in construction materials such as concrete, bricks, tiles, and manufactured stone. When these materials are ground, cut, drilled, sanded, or demolished, inhaling the dust can cause deadly lung and respiratory diseases such as silicosis.
This is not a recent discovery. In NSW the Silicosis Joint Committee was established in 1927 following enactment of the Workmen's Compensation (Silicosis) Act 1920). In those days exposure was mainly through the mining and quarrying industries.
In recent times exposure has increased dramatically following the popularity of stone kitchen benches – manufactured stone is cheaper than the real thing and many times more dangerous.Each year around 150 workers are diagnosed with silicosis – mostly younger men who work in trades. Previously the average was 20 a year.
The Australian government has established the National Dust Disease Taskforce to gauge the size of the problem. A recent study by Curtin University estimated that 100,000 people will be diagnosed in coming years. Silicosis is a death sentence – there is no cure.
Safework SA has published new guidance on managing the risks of silica dust across the construction industry, which can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/px4zbju7
Workers must be trained in handling the material safely and should wear respiratory protective equipment.Workshops should have dust extraction and ensure workers wear a properly fitting mask.
If you work with manufactured stone, or know someone who does, please read and act on the fact sheet – you could save someone's life.