Published: 12 Dec 2018



Silicosis making a dreaded comeback.




It is just as deadly as Asbestosis. Silicosis is one on the oldest diseases caused by the inhalation of silica containing dust. Symptoms can take between 5-10 years to develop depending on the exposure levels. Crystalline silica is found in stone, rock, sand, gravel and clay, as well as products such as bricks, tiles, concrete and some plastic materials. When these materials are worked on, respirable crystalline silica may be released as a fine dust (commonly known as silica dust).

Respirable crystalline silica (RCS) can be harmful if you breathe it in. RCS dust particles are much smaller than normal dust, and they can get deep into your lungs and stay there, permanently damaging the lung tissue and eventually leading to serious lung diseases in some people. RCS dust can cause silicosis (scarring and stiffening of the lungs) and diseases like emphysema and bronchitis.

It is understood that particles less than 10 microns can be respirable.


Controlling RSC - Practical Examples

Where work activities have the potential to generate RCS dust, a safe work method statement (SWMS), procedures or similar should be developed and implemented clearly referencing the RCS dust controls. People carrying out activities should be consulted in the development of SWMS / procedures and controls. People carrying out activities should be inducted into the applicable SWMS / procedure and workplace supervisors should monitor compliance with SWMS / procedures.

Where RCS dust has the potential to be generated the following controls include but are not limited to:

  • Wetting or dampening down surface areas

  • Using water sprays during earth works and demolition etc.

  • Using mobile plant with enclosed cabs

  • Using wet sweepers / vacuums (with ‘H’ or ‘M’ class filters) to clean up (where practicable)

  • Collection and containment of dust and smaller off-cuts in suitable containers/bags prior to disposal

  • Using respiratory protection equipment (RPE).

    • RPE is required to be worn, maintained and disposed of in accordance with manufactures specifications. The use of respiratory protection equipment (RPE) should be used in conjunction with other controls (where elimination is not practically achievable) and should not be considered as a stand-alone control.

      On-tool dust extraction/collection/suppression systems should be used and maintained where the work involves cutting, drilling or grinding materials containing crystalline silica, these include but are not limited to:

  • Wet cutting / water suppression systems

  • Localised extraction (fixed or on-tool)

  • Dust hoods attached to vacuum cleaner

  • Shadow vacuuming.


    Occupations at risk


    Quarry workers; plasterers; dry wallers; construction workers; demolition workers. brick workers; miners; stonecutters (including jewelry); workers involved in drilling, polishing, crushing; pottery makers; glassmakers; soap or detergent manufacturers; farmers; dentists; auto workers.


    Associated cancers

    Lung cancer


    Other health effects

    Silicosis (a scarring or inflammation of the lungs caused by inhaling silica dust), pulmonary tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and autoimmune disease (rheumatoid arthritis).

    Other dangerous carcinogens to watch out for.

    Each listed substance has been deemed to be a known carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer



  • Asbestos



Occupations at risk


Asbestos miners; brake repair mechanics; building demolition or maintenance workers; carpenters; cabinetmakers; construction workers; electricians; plumbers; plaster and drywall installers; auto mechanics. Buildings such as schools, hospitals and offices constructed before 1980 may contain asbestos insulation.



Associated cancers

Lung, larynx and ovary cancer and mesothelioma (extremely fatal cancer of the lining of the lung or abdominal cavity)


Other health effects


Asbestosis (scarring of the lungs making breathing difficult).


  • Beryllium



Occupations at risk

Beryllium mining workers; beryllium alloy production workers; metal products manufacturing; electronic equipment production; welders; grinders; sandblasters; machinists; dental workers; jewelers; construction workers, electricians.


Associated cancers

Lung cancer


Other health effects

Acute beryllium disease (resembles pneumonia); chronic beryllium disease (inflammatory lung disease that causes fibrosis); skin contact can lead to allergic response




  • Coal Tar and coal tar pitches



Occupations at risk


Roofers; pavers; road, bridge and building construction workers; glassmakers; chemical manufacturing workers; paint and adhesive manufacturing workers.


Associated cancers

Skin, lung and scrotal cancer

Other health effects

Skin, eye and respiratory tract irritation

Occupations at risk

Painters, manual labourers, product assemblers and foundry workers.

Associated cancers

Nasopharyngeal cancer and leukemia


Other health effects

Suspected links to childhood asthma and reproductive problems in women. Even at very low levels of exposure it irritates eyes and breathing passages.



  • Wood dust


Associated cancers

Cancers of the nasal cavities, paranasal sinuses (adjacent to nasal cavity) and nasopharynx (part of pharynx, behind the nose)


Other health effects

Eye irritation, nosebleeds, dermatitis, respiratory hypersensitivity, asthma, cough, wheezing, prolonged colds


  • Skin cancer


  1. not forget skin cancer. Melanoma is an insidious diseases that can strike anyone, not matter what your skin tone. Thousands of people worldwide who have worked outdoors in construction are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. The best prevention is simple. Slip, slop, slap. Cover up wear a 50+ sunscreen – make sure your worksite provides sunscreens and protection.


Further information; if you need farther information about the effect of carcinogens in the construction industry contact union the CFMEU WA on 92286900 for help and advice.