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Silica dust is a health threat for millions of workers, especially construction workers. Inhaling silica dust can scar the lungs and cause irreversible damage. Keep reading to learn more about silica awareness training, including what occupations require mandatory training.
What is Silica Dust, and What Are Its Effects on Health?
Silica dust includes airborne particles released from materials containing crystalline silica.
Crystalline silica is a mineral found in a variety of materials, including most types of sand, soil, and stone. It is also heavily present in engineered stone products. Crystal silica dust is generated when you crush, drill, or grind into those materials.
Is Silica Bad for You?
When someone cuts or drills into stone or other silica-containing materials, they may release dust particles. Silica dust can penetrate the lungs and cause severe damage. As some of the particles are not visible to the naked eye, silica dust is a major health threat.
Some of the potential health risks of exposure to silica dust include:
- Lung cancer
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Kidney disease
Silicosis is the name for a lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust. Common symptoms of silicosis include shortness of breath, coughing, weakness, fatigue, and fever. Silicosis may be acute, chronic, or accelerated. However, all forms of silicosis are potentially fatal.
Crystalline silica dust is light and typically difficult to detect. It can remain airborne long enough to pose a serious threat to anyone in the immediate area. It poses more of a threat in confined spaces, especially those without proper ventilation.
Work and Exposure to Silica Dust
Exposure to silica dust is regulated under WHS laws. Under the model WHS regulations, each PCBU has a duty to manage workplace risks, which include exposure to silica dust.
A PCBU needs to ensure the silica dust exposure does not exceed the workplace exposure standard (WES). The current WES is 0.05 mg/m3 during an eight-hour workday and a five-day workweek.
The WES was lowered in 2020 to reduce the health risks of silica dust exposure. PCBUs use air monitoring devices to monitor silica dust levels.
WorkSafe ACT and other regulating bodies have also recently updated their regulations for silica dust in 2022. For example, WorkSafe ACT now prohibits uncontrolled dry cutting of certain materials, including natural stone and engineered stone.
What Occupations Require Mandatory Silica Awareness Training?
Different types of materials contain different concentrations of silica. For example, marble and limestone typically only contain 2% silica. Natural sandstone and engineered stone can contain up to 95% and 97% silica.
Due to the higher concentrations of silica in certain materials, certain occupations, especially in the construction industry, are at higher risk of exposure to silica dust. Many of these occupations now require silica awareness training.
The list of occupations that require mandatory silica awareness training is extensive and covers a variety of industries. However, the following occupations are at the greatest risk of silica dust exposure:
- Jewellery industry workers
- Construction workers
Individuals who use power tools to modify or cut engineered stone are likely to require training. Some even argue that a ban on engineered stone is needed to help save lives.
10830NAT – Course in Crystalline Silica Exposure Prevention is the nationally recognised unit of competency for silica awareness training. It is offered through registered training organisations (RTOs), such as AlertForce.
What Does Silica Dust Awareness Training Cover?
10830NAT covers hazard prevention steps for reducing exposure to respirable crystalline silica. The main topics covered in the course include:
- Identifying products containing crystalline silica
- Understanding legislation and safety standards
- The hazards and risks of silica dust exposure
- Current workplace exposure standards
- Safety data sheets for silica-containing products
- The hierarchy of controls for mitigating risks
- Safe systems for prevention of exposure
Participants should fully understand how to recognise workplace risks involving silica dust and how to limit those risks through a hierarchy of control measures.
PCBUs are required to manage the risks of silica dust exposure. This includes reducing exposure to silica dust as much as reasonably possible. Silica safety practices often involve implementing multiple safety measures following a hierarchy of controls:
- Substitute materials
- Isolate the work area
- Engineering controls
- Administrative controls
- Personal protective equipment
Start by considering substituting materials, such as switching to a material with a lower amount of crystalline silica. For example, using marble instead of slate may limit the silica dust generated when drilling into the material.
Isolating the work area also helps limit exposure to silica dust. It keeps nearby areas safe and makes it easier to control the silica dust generated during work activities.
Engineering controls can be used to minimise the presence of silica dust in the isolated workspace. This may include the use of ventilation and dust collection equipment to remove dust from the air. Using wet cutting instead of dry cutting can also minimise the creation of dust.
Administrative controls often involve shift rotations and other efforts for limiting the time that workers spend on a task that may include a risk of exposure to silica dust.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is used as the last line of defence against silica dust exposure. Requiring workers to wear ventilation gear, such as a P2 efficiency face respirator, may limit the remaining airborne particles from entering the lungs.
Exposure to silica dust remains a health threat to workers in certain occupations. If your job involves cutting or modifying engineered stone, such as kitchen countertops, you likely need to complete a silica awareness course.
The courses last about four hours and are available in cities and towns throughout Australia. View upcoming silica safety training courses to book a time and date that works for you.
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