Crystalline silica

When products or materials containing crystalline silica are cut, sanded or drilled into, a very fine dust is created. This dust is harmful when inhaled and can lead to silicosis. Silicosis can be fatal within five to 10 years – sometimes for people as young as 20 or 30.

How to protect yourself

Avoid products and materials that contain silica. But if you have to work with them, you must:

This is a dust extraction fan.
This Heritage dust extraction system sucks up dust and fumes and safely filters it away.

Use local exhaust ventilation systems to remove dust.

Ensure ventilation is correctly placed and operates at effective flow rates.

This image shows on-tool dust capture.
This on-tool dust capture system removes dust at the source.

Use tools with dust capture to prevent particles escaping into the air, especially where workers are mobile and moving around.

This image shows concrete being wet cut.
This concrete is being wet cut so the dust cannot become airborne.

Cut stone with water, also known as wet cutting.

Wet dust can't escape into the air.

This is a half face respirator.
This is a half face respirator.

Wear the right mask to prevent breathing in silica.

For specifications on the safest masks.

  • AS/NZS 1716:2012 Respiratory protective devices, and
  • AS/NZS 1715:2009 Selection, use and maintenance of respiratory protective equipment

If you don't have a copy, call us on 13 10 50.

This image shows two vacuums.
These vacuums are designed to remove and capture dust.

Use a class M or H vacuum cleaner to remove dust.

Never use a broom or compressed air.

For specifications on commercial vacuums, refer to AS/NZS 60335.2.69:2017 Household and similar electrical appliances.

If you don't have a copy, call us on 13 10 50.

Always follow the advice in safety data sheets and on product labels.

Video safety alert

Our inspector Abe talks about working safely with silica in this video safety alert.

Health monitoring

Workers who may be at significant risk of exposure to crystalline silica must be offered regular health monitoring (chest x-rays and lung capacity tests) by their employer. Insurance & Care NSW (icare) offers subsidised health monitoring to businesses across NSW through its Lung Screen service.

Complete our health monitoring webinar to understand when health monitoring is required and your regulatory requirements. Eligible businesses who complete the webinar can apply  for a $500 small business rebate.

More about crystalline silica

Learn more about crystalline silica harms, where it's found and other relevant publications:

The harms

Exposure to silica dust can lead to a number of serious illnesses including:

  • silicosis – scarring of the lung that can result in a severe shortness of breath and is not reversible. Severe cases can be terminal or require a lung transplant
  • lung cancer
  • kidney disease
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The workplace exposure standard (WES) for respirable crystalline silica (RCS) is 0.1 mg/m3 eight hour time-weighted average.

Where is crystalline silica found?

Engineered materials containing silica, such as manufactured stone, are used in kitchen benches and counter tops. Workers will also come across silica when excavating or tunneling through sandstone.

Typical crystalline silica levels in different materials are:

  • sand and sandstone: 70-100%
  • manufactured stone: 93% or higher
  • granite: 20-45% (typically 30%)
  • concrete and mortar: 25-70%
  • calcium-silicate bricks: 50-55%
  • slate: 20-40%
  • brick: up to 30%
  • fibre cement sheets: 10-30%
  • demolition dust:3-4%
  • marble:2%
  • limestone: 2%
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