Shining a Spotlight on the Dangers of Respirable Crystalline Silica

Occupational Dangers to Lung Health

The impact on lung health of respirable silica dust (RSC) and asbestos and the risks faced by construction workers exposed to potentially harmful substances are key areas of focus for UK HSE and local authority inspectors during 2017.

As a world-leading manufacturer of respiratory devices with a heritage of supporting early detection of lung disease for over half a century Vitalograph welcomes these initiatives.

The danger of asbestos exposure causing illnesses such as mesothelioma and lung cancer are well documented however the public knows little of the dangers of exposure to RSC which may be equally dangerous. Is it possible that some cases of lung disease attributed to asbestos are actually caused by respirable silica?

Whilst only minimal exposure to asbestos is enough to cause harm it takes high levels of exposure to RSC to cause of conditions such as silicosis, lung cancer, TB and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These high levels of exposure are regrettably common as respirable crystalline silica is too fine to see and is often not considered harmful.

Those at most risk are people who have worked in foundry, cement or quarry works, stone masons, building materials manufacturers, sand blasters and those who work in the construction of roads and buildings. Millions have been paid in personal injury compensation claims for asbestos exposure illnesses. Compensation for illnesses caused by crystalline silica exposure is likely to follow soon.

What is Silica Dust?

Silica is commonly found in nature as sand. Silica exists in many different forms that can be crystalline as well as non-crystalline (amorphous). Quartz is the most common form of crystalline silica and is the second most common mineral on the earth’s surface. It is found in almost every type of rock i.e. igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary and is a basic component of soil. RCS dust may be fine enough to inhale deep into the bronchioles and alveoli causing serious harm.

70-90% Sand & Sandstone
25-70% Concrete & Mortar
30-45% Tiles
20-45% Granite
20-40% Quaried Slate
0-30% Bricks
0-2% Limestone & Marble

Protective Measures

New measures to protect workers from the dangers of silica dust are being introduced on both sides of the Atlantic. From June 23, all US firms involved in construction, maritime and general industries must follow new controls aimed at preventing hundreds of deaths and around 900 new cases of silicosis each year.

Key measures in the new standard issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) include a requirement for employers to monitor the health of workers who are exposed to high levels of respirable crystalline silica (RCS). Additionally, highly-exposed US workers must be given feedback about their lung health.

This month also sees the six-month anniversary of a British cross-industry campaign to raise awareness of the hazard posed by RCS, which is believed to cause 800 lung cancer deaths in the country each year. Led by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), the No Time To Lose campaign is due for a progress review in November.

New rules to protect US coal miners from coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), a silicosis-like disease also known as ‘black lung’, are also due to be introduced next year. From February 2018 the use of approved facilities and spirometry devices are mandatory for all medical facilities involved in the Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program (CWHSP).

Ongoing global initiatives that highlight the danger to lung health associated with workplace exposure to hazardous substances are vital in preventing thousands of needless deaths and protecting the quality of life of employees across a wide range of industries.


iWork Safely with Silica
iiHSE Health and Safety at Work Strategy work-strategy/occupational-lung-disease.pdf
iiiThe Vitalograph Story
ivBartrip, P. (2004). History of asbestos related disease. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 80:72-76. http://pmj.
vHSE. (2013). Control of Exposure to Silica Dust.
viHSE Silica Dust. htm
viiOSHA Asbestos Standard for the Construction Industry (Revised 2002). OSHA3096/3096.html
viiiOSHA’s Final Rule to Protect Workers from Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica https://www.osha. gov/silica/
ixIOSH Silica agreement six months on.

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