By now, most landscape professionals know of the dangers presented by asbestos, but relatively few know of the inherent dangers of crystalline silica.
When inhaled, crystalline silica is extremely harmful and can lead to silicosis, a disease that can be fatal within a mere five to ten years. Even workers as young as 20 or 30 can contract silicosis.
So, what exactly is crystalline silica, where is found and, most importantly, how can you protect yourself, your colleagues and your staff from silica inhalation and silicosis?
What Is Silicosis And How Is It Contacted?
Silicosis is a lung disease caused by breathing in tiny bits of crystalline silica, a mineral that is part of sand, rock, and mineral ores such as quartz. This lethal and aggressive disease is also progressive causing inflammation and fibrous scarring in the lungs. There is no known cure and, with a worrying number of confirmed cases, many doctors believe that silicosis could be the biggest occupational lung disease crisis to present in Australia since the asbestos disaster. However, the good news is that silicosis is preventable when reasonable safety precautions are taken.
What is Crystalline Silica?
When products or materials containing crystalline silica are cut, sanded or drilled into, a very fine dust is created. This dust is so fine that it is highly likely you would not even notice it or know you are breathing it in. SafeWork NSW are well-aware of this risk and are urging individuals working with these products to take a range of sensible precautions to protect themselves from inhaling the silica. But which products do you need to be aware of?
Products and Materials Presenting A Risk
Many engineered materials, such as manufactured stones, contain silica. However, some natural products present strong risks too. Here are the percentages of silica that could present a risk to landscape professionals in their everyday work environments:
- 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%.
How Can I Protect Myself and My Staff?
Fortunately, as with asbestos inhalation, crystalline silica inhalation is preventable. There are a range of measures SafeWork NSW recommends:
- When working in a manufacturing environment or warehouse, use local exhaust ventilation systems to remove dust
- Use tools with dust capture features to prevent dust escaping into the air
- Cut stone with water, also known as wet cutting. Wet dust cannot escape into the air
- Wear a mask to prevent breathing in silica. For specifications on the correct masks refer to the following Standards:
- AS/NZS 1716:2012 Respiratory protective devices, and
- AS/NZW 1715:2009 Selection, use and maintenance of respiratory protective equipment
- Use a vacuum cleaner, class M or H, to remove dry dust. For wet waste, simply sweep with a broom.
As with any other safety issue in the workplace, employers and employees have obligations and procedures that need to be followed to comply with WHS legislation.
Employers have a primary duty of care to their workers, they must review their programs, procedures and forms as part of their due diligence. They are also required to consult their workers about health and safety, as well as keep a register of all injuries and notify SafeWork NSW of any potentially dangerous incidents.
Likewise, workers have obligations to ensure safe working environments and procedures are followed. Workers must take reasonable care for their own health and safety, as well as the health and safety of others. They must also comply with any reasonable instruction, policies and procedures given by their employer, business or controller in the workplace.
Workers should work safely, following instructions, ask if they are not sure how to safely perform the work, use personal protective equipment (PPE) in the way they have been trained to, and report any injuries, unsafe or unhealthy situations to their supervisor or their health and safety representative.
Making Others Aware Of The Dangers Of Crystalline Silica
First and foremost, employers should ensure that their workers are aware of the risks of silica inhalation and what steps they need to take to prevent it. There is a short video produced by SafeWork NSW that is an excellent way to introduce this issue with your employees. Visit https:// www.safework.nsw.gov.au/hazards-a-z/ hazardous-chemical/priority-chemicals/ crystalline-silica
As part of your WHS policies, employers should also produce a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) to minimise the hazard of crystalline silica exposure for their employees. Members of the LNA Master Landscapers Association, NSW and ACT can access SWMS templates, examples and instructions in the ‘Member Resources’ section of our website.
If you are not yet an LNA Member, why not enquire today to access our many Member Resources and the large range of other products and services specifically developed to meet the needs of landscape professionals? Members are also updated regularly on issues of WHS, legislative changes and other news directly affecting landscapers and their businesses.
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To join, visit http://www.landscapenswact. com.au or call the friendly LNA team on (02) 9630 4844.