Silica dust: a cause for concern in construction

Silica is a common component of many materials that are encountered during construction. If workers are exposed to silica dust without adequate respiratory protection in place, they are at risk of developing silicosis, a serious lung disease. 

Silica is a major component in sand, and sand is a principal ingredient in cement, which in turn is used to make concrete. Rocks such as granite and sandstone, as well as clay bricks, tiles and some fibro cement products also contain silica.

Workers who drill or cut into these products without using proper personal protection equipment are at risk of breathing in silica dust particles.

Silica dust particles can accumulate in the lungs. In the longer term, the scarring can obstruct breathing and lead to shortness of breath. Ultimately this can result in permanent heart and lung disease.

“With construction booming in some parts of Australia, it’s quite common to see workers drilling or excavating in a cloud of dust,” said Graeme Cooper, Tecpro Australia’s Managing Director. “Many don’t realise the serious risk that’s posed by working without proper respiratory protection equipment.”

Silicosis can be a slow disease, with the person remaining symptom-free for 10 to 20 years after exposure. Currently there is no treatment for silicosis and those who have the disease are at an increased risk of developing lung cancer.

“Apart from insisting that workers use the right protection equipment to prevent them inhaling silica dust particles, another line of defence is to create a barrier to prevent the silica dust circulating,” said Mr Cooper. “You can achieve this by creating a curtain effect using a fine mist of water droplets around the source of the silica dust.”

Mr Cooper’s company designs and fabricates dust suppression systems for all types of construction, mining and industrial environments.

“We can design and build a frame that contains industrial fogging nozzles, and this can be placed around the perimeter where the dust is being generated,” he said. “Because silica particles are hydrophobic, the water droplets repel them, causing them to fall back into the source where the dust is generated. This helps to prevent the dust from escaping and causing harm to people in the vicinity, as well as the environment.”

Tecpro’s dust suppression system produces a mist of very fine water droplets. Because the water droplets are tiny, they evaporate quickly. This reduces the likelihood of water pooling or run off containing the silica dust particles occurring.

“There seems to be a high awareness about the danger posed by asbestos dust and coal dust for example,” said Mr Cooper. “Yet I’ve encountered quite a few people in the construction industry who didn’t know that silica dust can also cause irreversible lung problems in people who have significant exposure to it. Fortunately there are ways to mitigate the problem and we are well placed to help through our expertise in dust suppression solutions.”

Tecpro Australia consults to the construction industry about the best choice of dust suppression systems to combat silica dust. Contact us to discuss how we can help with your dust problem.

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