Cutting, grinding, trimming, sanding or polishing stone benchtops produces very small particles of dust, including respirable crystalline silica, that are invisible to the naked eye. When breathed in, respirable crystalline silica exposure over time can cause fatal lung disease.
Workers fabricating, processing, installing, maintaining or removing stone benchtops without appropriate control measures in place may be exposed to high levels of respirable crystalline silica. Workers can also be exposed to respirable crystalline silica from poor housekeeping methods which disturb dust, including dry sweeping, using compressed air or high-pressure water cleaners, general-purpose vacuum cleaners not designed for use with hazardous dust, or by allowing the accumulation of dust within the workplace.
Generally, workers have a higher risk to their health from exposure to respirable crystalline silica during fabrication of stone benchtops. The more cutting, grinding, trimming, sanding or polishing a worker does the higher the risk to their health. Without adequate controls, in place, these practices generate dust or mist clouds which may contain very high respirable crystalline silica concentrations.
Respirable crystalline silica is a significant health hazard for workers. It is too small to be seen under a normal lighting and the small particle size allows it to stay airborne for long periods of time. It is easily inhaled deep into the lungs where it can be deposited and lead to a range of respiratory diseases, including silicosis, progressive massive fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.
Respirable crystalline silica also increases the risk of developing a chronic renal disease, autoimmune disorders2. 3 and other adverse health effects including an increased risk of activating latent tuberculosis.
Silicosis is a serious, irreversible lung disease that causes permanent disability and can be fatal. Respirable crystalline silica dust particles are deposited in lung tissue, causing inflammation and scarring and reducing the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen. Silicosis may continue to worsen even long after exposure stops.
As the disease progresses, a worker may experience:
- shortness of breath
- severe cough
It is important to note that damage to lungs from silicosis is permanent and symptoms of the disease may not appear for many years. Workers may not present with any symptoms, even at the point of initial diagnosis, which is why prevention and health monitoring are critical.
Air monitoring to determine a worker’s exposure (as per WHS Regulation 49) involves measuring the level of respirable crystalline silica in the breathing zone of workers using a personal sampler during the course of their usual shift activities (including routine breaks). Air monitoring must be conducted to determine whether there is a risk to a worker’s health, or if there is any uncertainty that the exposure standard is being exceeded.
Hazmat Plus has qualified Environmental Scientists and Occupational Hygienists who can undertake a comprehensive site assessment Respirable Crystalline Silica Monitoring and Exposure Assessments including discussions with management and staff to identify dust producing tasks and conduct onsite occupational exposure monitoring of worker’s to check current controls against the workplace exposure standard and provide advice and recommendations, if required, for additional control measures including the selection of the right level of respiratory protection.
The Code of Practice for Managing Respirable Crystalline Silica in the Stone Benchtop Industry stipulates this monitoring MUST occur within 6 months of the code commencing (commenced 31 October 2019 therefore before April 30 2020).
Don’t leave it too late, Hazmat Plus has been conducting RCS assessments for over 10 years and can provide cost-effective rates to help assist in this legal requirement.