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Crystalline silica risks targeted in workplace audits

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland inspectors are conducting workplace audits targeting the risks associated with respirable crystalline silica (RCS) contained in building materials.

RCS is a basic component of soil, sand, granite, and many other minerals. Quartz is the most common form of crystalline silica and it is commonly found in:

  • concrete and concrete products such as autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC)
  • stone and composite-stone benchtops
  • fibre-cement sheeting
  • bricks, blocks, tiles and pavers
  • bagged materials such as cement, tile adhesive and mortar.

RCS is the portion of dust too small to be seen under normal lighting. Its size allows it to stay airborne for long periods of time and it is easily inhaled deep into the lungs. Exposure to RCS can lead to a range of respiratory diseases, including silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.

Silicosis is a serious and irreversible lung disease that causes permanent disablement and early death, and it is made worse by smoking. It is commonly caused from exposure to RCS over many years, but extremely high short-term exposures can cause it to develop rapidly

Typical RCS-generating processes in the construction industry include using power tools (including scabblers, grinders, concrete floor polishers, saws, drills and rotary hammers) on silica-containing materials, and mixing of concrete, adhesive or mortar using dry-bagged products. There is also a risk when sweeping or using compressed air or blowers on dusts containing silica.

The audit campaign is initially targeting larger workplaces, and inspectors will be looking for contraventions of the following requirements of the Work Health Safety Regulation 2011:

  • Suitable engineering controls must be used to manage risks from RCS (e.g. water suppression or dust extraction are not used when they could be) - WHSR s 351(1).
  • Dust extraction plant, if used, must be fit for purpose - WHSR s351(1).
  • RPE must be supplied to workers performing tasks where they are exposed to RCS (in the absence of air monitoring evidencing that personal exposures do not exceed the exposure standard) – WHSR s351(1).
  • RPE should be supplied and should be worn by workers – WHSR s44(2); suitable for the work and hazards ( at least P1 filtration) – WHSR s44(2); a suitable fit (for example, tight-fitting respirators must not be worn over beards or facial hair) – WHSR s44(2), and fit-tested for each worker using the respirator – WHSR 44(2).
  • A safe work method statement for RCS work should be prepared in certain circumstances (construction work in an area that may have an atmosphere contaminated with RCS) – WHSR s299(1).
  • Work must be done in compliance with safe work method statement – WHSR s300(2).

Further information

Information on how to select the right industrial vacuum cleaner and dust extraction unit, as well as tips for using, selecting and maintaining dust extractors, and the classes, filtration capacity and suitability of various machines is at worksafe.qld.gov.au

Last updated
12 April 2018

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