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Is silica safe? In short no if appropriate risk reduction strategies are not in place. Silica is a major threat to Australian workers in the construction and home renovation industries. Working with silica increases your risk of developing respiratory issues, including lung cancer. With the right awareness training course, you may protect yourself or your employees from these dangers.

What Is Silica Awareness Training?

Silica awareness training is a program designed to identify and control the potential risk of exposure to silica dust. The training is primarily intended for those in the construction industry. It gives workers the skills and knowledge needed to reduce the health risk associated with crystalline silica.

Please note that AlertForce provides Silica Awareness training in all the cities listed below:

  • Adelaide
  • Brisbane
  • Canberra
  • Darwin
  • Hobart
  • Melbourne
  • Perth
  • Sydney

Crystalline silica is a compound found in a variety of construction materials. Cutting engineered stone, mortar, tiles, bricks, and concrete may release silica dust. Silica dust is the name for the dust that contains crystalline silica.

Breathing respirable silica into your lungs increases the risk of various health issues. The tiny particles may scar the lungs and promote serious health problems. The main silica dust hazards include:

  • Silicosis
  • Kidney disease
  • Lung cancer
  • Autoimmune diseases

Silicosis is an incurable respiratory illness caused by crystalline silica dust exposure. The symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, coughing, and weight loss. Severe cases of silicosis may lead to serious lung damage and even death.

Awareness training may limit the risk of these health issues. Under the model Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) regulations, employers have a duty of care. They must ensure that workers understand the recommended measures for eliminating and reducing health risks, which are covered in the training course.

Who Should Attend Awareness Training?

According to the Cancer Council Australia, about 587,000 Australian workers were exposed to silica in 2011. The organisation estimates that 5,758 of those exposed to silica that year will develop lung cancer. Workers in the construction industry face the greatest risks.

Safe Work Australia releases a workplace exposure standard for the safe level of silica in a work environment. The current standard states that exposure should not exceed 0.5 mg/m3. Work activities that may contribute to the release of harmful particles include:

  • Cutting or grinding stone, concrete or brick
  • Mining and quarrying processes
  • Foundry casting
  • Pottery making
  • Fabrication and installation of stone countertops
  • Earth-moving and excavation operations
  • Paving and surfacing operations
  • Tunnelling
  • Various construction labouring activities

Engineered stone countertops contain the highest concentrations of silica, with about 80% of the particles coming from the fabrication and installation of stone countertops. If your job duties involve any of the activities listed above, you may benefit from the awareness training program.

What Are the Training Outcomes?

The main goal of the program is to cover the risks of respirable crystalline silica. Workers learn the recommended procedures for working with silica. The WHS (Occupational)Health and Safety Regulations 2017 outline the control measures for reducing the risk of exposure:

  • Substitution
  • Isolation
  • Engineering controls
  • Administrative controls
  • Personal protective equipment

These control measures are arranged in order from most effective to least effective. Substitution is the first solution, as it involves the substitution of material that contains high levels of silica. For example, instead of using composite stone benchtops, you may use a safer material.

Isolating workers from the threat is the next control measure. Isolating the area used for tasks that may generate dust limits exposure. This may include the use of enclosures to separate workers from the dust.

Engineering controls are also used to limit exposure. These options include various tools and equipment for collecting or suppressing the dust. For example, an on-tool water suppression system supplies water to keep dust from reaching the air.

Other tools include dust extraction equipment. An on-tool dust extraction system may include handheld tools or exhaust ventilation systems. These solutions extract dust from the air as it is generated.

Administrative controls are used to limit exposure during clean up. Employees may need to use dust class M or dust class H vacuum cleaners to clean dusty surfaces. Vacuuming the dust removes it from the atmosphere while using compressed air generates more airborne dust.

Engineering controls and administrative controls help protect workers. However, additional measures are often needed, such as the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) must comply with the AS/NZS 1716 standards.

The RPE should include at least a P2 filter. Before wearing the device, the employee should test it for a proper fit. The RPE needs a facial seal to remain effective.

For example, people with beards should not wear half-face respirators, as the hair prevents a complete seal. If hair interferes with the seal, the employee should wear a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR).

Along with steps needed to control the risk, employers may also use ongoing health monitoring to assess the health of employees exposed to the harmful dust. If workers carry out ongoing work handling the harmful material, they should receive continued monitoring. The WHS Regulations include minimum requirements for monitoring.

The next control measure for protecting workers is training. Teaching employees the dangers of silica dust exposure and how to implement the control measures discussed helps them safely carry out their work activities.

Air monitoring is also a requirement if a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) is uncertain about the potential risk of exposure in their workplace. The results of the air monitoring need to be shared with any employees that may have been exposed to the harmful particles.

How Long Does Silica Awareness Training Take?

The course is delivered online and typically takes about 45 to 60 minutes to complete. Face to face courses vary depending upon business requirements but typically allow half a day. You may complete the course at your own pace, allowing you to take your time and fully digest the information.

The course is not mandatory. However, Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regulations require employers to provide reasonably safe work environments. Enrolling employees in the training program helps PCBUs meet their duty of care.

How Much Is Silica Awareness Training?

Silica dust Australia awareness training costs between $50 and $125, depending on the training organisation offering the course. The cost may also vary in different states and territories. Contact AlertForce to learn more about available courses, costs, and other enrolment requirements.

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