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Crystalline silica (silica) is a naturally occurring mineral found in most types of soil and rocks. The most commonly found silica is quartz, which is often used to make various products, such as composite stone for the fabrication of kitchen and bathroom counters.

When workers drill, cut, saw, or polish products containing silica, small dust particles are created. Inhaling silica dust increases the risk of illness and disease, including silicosis.

Silica awareness training is designed to educate workers about the risks related to silica dust exposure. By completing this course, you gain the skills and knowledge necessary for detecting the presence of silica and minimising exposure.

What Is the Requirement?

Under the model WHS Regulations, a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) needs to maintain reasonably safe working conditions. This includes ensuring that exposure to silica does not exceed the workplace exposure standard.

The workplace exposure standard is 0.05 mg/m3 (eight-hour time-weighted average). PCBUs may need to conduct air monitoring and health monitoring if there is a significant risk to worker’s health due to the presence of silica dust.

Many activities increase the risk of exposure to respirable silica dust particles, including:

  • Paving and surfacing
  • Clay and stone processing
  • Excavation and earthmoving
  • Tunnelling
  • Mining and quarrying
  • Construction labouring activities
  • Stone, concrete, and brick cutting
  • Abrasive blasting
  • Fabrication and installation of composite stone countertops

During these activities, the crushing or drilling of stone may release silica dust particles. PCBUs are required to keep exposure limits within the standards.

How Can You Take the Silica Awareness Course?

The course is offered online and face-to-face through reputable health and safety training organisations (RTOs). The course typically lasts about four hours when delivered face-to-face. Online courses allow individuals to complete the material at their own pace.

Why Does it Have to Be Done?

While silica awareness training is not mandatory, it helps protect workers from exposure to silica dust and the health risks associated with it. Employers also have a duty of care to protect workers from known risks and workplace hazards.

What Is the Average Price of Silica Awareness Training?

That depends on whether the course is nationally recognised or not. Most courses are not nationally recognised and range from between $60-$150

The average cost of the 10830NAT course is $300 to $400 with no goods and services tax (GST). However, the price of the 10830NAT course varies depending on the registered training organisation and state or territory where the course is offered.

Is it Mandatory?

Silica awareness training is currently not mandatory based on existing legislation. However, many in the industry expect the training to become a requirement. It is also being woven into many Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBA).

Awareness training contributes to compliance with the WHS Act. PCBUs have an obligation to implement reasonable steps to manage the risks to health and safety when dealing with hazardous chemicals, including silica. With awareness training, workers gain a better understanding of the risks associated with silica and the control measures for limiting exposure.

The silica training course is recommended for building and construction workers, DIY enthusiasts, jewellery industry workers, and anyone else that may be at risk of exposure to crystalline silica dust.

What Types of Things Will You Learn?

Silica awareness training follows the 10830NAT – Course in Crystalline Silica Exposure Prevention unit of competency. The learning outcomes of the course cover the following topics:

  • Identification of crystalline silica products
  • The relevant legislation, standards, and guidelines
  • The health risks and hazards associated with silica exposure
  • The recommended hierarchy of controls
  • Safety data sheets for silica-containing products
  • Additional risk assessment and hazard prevention methods

When completing the nationally recognised 10830NAT course, students learn how to identify products that may contain crystalline silica. This includes composite stone counters.

The composite stone contains about 90% or more silica. Natural sandstone is comprised of about 67% silica. Granite, aggregates, mortar, and concrete tend to contain less silica, but the concentration can vary.

As part of the training, students also gain knowledge of the health risks related to silica exposure. Breathing in silica dust damages the lungs, which increases the risk of a variety of illnesses, including:

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Emphysema
  • Lung cancer
  • Kidney damage
  • Scleroderma
  • Silicosis

Silicosis is a lung disease directly caused by the inhalation of dust containing silica. There are three stages of silicosis – acute, accelerated, and chronic.

The symptoms of silicosis may not appear for years after exposure, increasing the seriousness of silica exposure. Symptoms include shortness of breath, weakness, coughing, chest pain, weight loss, and breathing difficulties. Silicosis leads to severe inflammation in the lungs, scarring, and may even become fatal.

To protect against silicosis and other health risks, students who are enrolled in the course learn how to assess hazards and use the hierarchy of controls to limit them. The hierarchy of controls starts with substitution.

Substituting a material with high silica content with a material that contains less silica is the preferred solution. When substitution is not an option, workers should attempt to isolate the hazards using enclosures with proper ventilation.

Engineering controls, such as wet cutting or tools with dust collection attachments, further minimise the risk of exposure. Additional recommendations include implementing administrative controls, including shift rotations and time spent cutting silica products.

Along with other control measures, workers should wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Common PPE for activities involving silica products include P2 efficiency half-face respirators and clothing that does not collect dust.

Silica dust remains a threat for many workers, especially those that work with composite stone materials. If your activities involve the risk of exposure to silica dust, enrol in the silica awareness training course to protect your health and the health of others in the workplace.

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