Crystalline silica - general fact sheet

What is crystalline silica?

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

Why is 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, following national

and international research, was developed in which crystalline silica ranked the second highest priority.

Where is crystalline silica used?

Crystalline silica is a very common mineral used in manufacturing building products and construction materials. Engineered materials containing silica, such as composite stone, are used to fabricate kitchen benches and countertops. Workers can come across crystalline silica when undertaking construction works that require excavation or tunnelling through quartz containing rocks such as shale and sandstone.

How can crystalline silica harm workers?

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

Applying adequate controls such as minimising the generation of airborne dust can reduce hazardous exposures and prevent illness in the workplace.

How to protect yourself and workers.

  • Eliminate tasks that generate dust where possible
  • Apply water suppression systems to reduce dust generation
  • Use local exhaust ventilation systems to capture and remove dust at the source
  • Use dust capture systems on portable tools
  • Use well maintained and appropriate personal protective equipment (eg – respirators).
  • Instruct and train workers in the correct fitting, use and maintenance of respirators
  • Avoid using compressed air to remove or clean settled dust
  • Follow instructions and controls outlined in safety data sheets and product labels

Where to find more information

More detail on crystalline silica can be found on our hazardous chemicals page

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