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Health and Safety
Taking care with materials, equipment and work procedures and dealing with hazards.
Silica dust is produced when polishing and grinding concrete, and also when cutting concrete or masonry, or drilling, crushing and cutting some types of fibre-cement board. It can also be produced when cutting or grinding engineered kitchen benchtops that have a high silica content. Breathing in fine silica dust over prolonged periods can cause serious lung disease.
The disease is called silicosis, and there is a fast-developing version called accelerated silicosis. These are serious – there have been deaths in Australia. In New Zealand, ACC had 99 claims lodged for screening/assessment (where ACC covers the cost of testing) by mid-2021. Of these, 11 were diagnosed with, and received cover for, either silicosis or accelerated silicosis
It is common for people with this type of disease to not notice any symptoms in the early years, but anyone who has been exposed to silica dust for 6 months or more within the past 10 years should talk to their GP and lodge a claim to be assessed.
Exposure to silica dust should be eliminated, isolated or minimised. Dust control is top priority:
- Wet any dust before it can become airborne, and frequently clean work areas and equipment with water.
- Never sweep up dry dust. Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter that takes particles out of the air.
- When buying equipment for cutting and grinding, look for dust control features such as a dust collection device or a water system to the blade. Then make sure those operating the equipment use these features.
The appropriate masks should always be available. Where dust levels are low, disposable masks may be sufficient. Make sure they have two straps and fit securely around the face. Half-face or full-face masks will be required where dust levels are greater.
Make sure dusty clothes are cleaned and they do not carry dust into vehicles or homes.
Updated: 29 July 2021