Crystalline silica

Crystalline silica is a naturally occurring mineral found in most rocks, sand, clay as well as in products such as bricks, concrete, tile and composite stone.

Crystalline silica - a priority chemical

The NSW Work Health and Safety Roadmap has a target of a 30 per cent reduction in serious injuries and illnesses by 2022, which comprises a reduction in exposures to hazardous chemicals and materials.

A priority list of 100 chemicals based on national and international research was developed, in which crystalline silica ranked the second highest priority.

Uses for crystalline silica

Crystalline silica is a very common mineral used in the manufacture of many types of building products for use in construction.

Engineered materials containing silica, such as composite stone, are used to fabricate kitchen benches and counter tops.

Workers can come across silica when undertaking construction works that require excavation or tunnelling through sandstone.

Harms from crystalline silica

Very fine particles of crystalline silica dust present a hazard when inhaled into the lungs. Airborne dust is most likely to occur when materials or products containing silica in the workplace are cut, sanded, drilled or any other job which creates fine dust.

Depending on factors such as how much dust a worker breathes in and for how long, crystalline silica can cause the following health effects:

  • silicosis – a scarring of the lung which can result in a severe shortness of breath and is not reversible. Severe cases can result in complications leading to death
  • lung cancer
  • kidney disease.

Adequate controls such as minimising the generation of airborne dust and use of personal protective equipment can prevent any hazardous exposures and illness in the workplace.

Protecting yourself and others

  • Eliminate where possible, tasks that generate dust
  • Substitute where possible (eg – composite stone) with safer products
  • Use exhaust ventilation systems to capture and remove dust at the source
  • Use dust capture systems on portable tools
  • Apply water suppression systems to reduce dust generation
  • Use well maintained and appropriate personal protective equipment (eg – respirators)
  • Avoid using compressed air to remove or clean settled dust
  • Follow instructions and controls outlined in safety data sheets and product labels

Crystalline silica fact sheets

More detail on crystalline silica can be found in our fact sheets

Crystalline silica general fact sheet 

Crystalline silica technical fact sheet

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