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Silica Dust: You Are More At Risk Than You May Think. Gaynor Guthrie Medical Inspector. “It’s only dust you know!”. What is the Problem?. Why is it a Problem?. Particles need to be “respirable” to cause harm Issue is Respirable Crystalline Silica or RCS

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Gaynor Guthrie Medical Inspector

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Gaynor guthrie medical inspector

Silica Dust:

You Are More At Risk Than You May Think

Gaynor Guthrie

Medical Inspector

Gaynor guthrie medical inspector

“It’s only dust you know!”

What is the problem

What is the Problem?

Why is it a problem

Why is it a Problem?

  • Particles need to be “respirable” to cause harm

  • Issue is Respirable Crystalline Silica or RCS

  • RCS particles can penetrate to deep lung

Why is it a problem1

Why is it a Problem?

  • A micron is one millionth of a meter.

  • Human hair varies between 40 to 100 m thick.

  • Respirable dust = 10 m or less



  • ?10 to 20% construction workers exposed

  • Silicosis usually follows at least 10 years of exposure to RCS

  • It causes stiffening and scarring of the lungs. Nodules visible on X-Ray

  • Symptoms are coughing and breathlessness

  • Progressive, even after exposure stops




  • Increased risk of Tuberculosis (TB)

  • After 15 years of exposure to RCS at the WEL of 0.1mg/m3, the risk of developing silicosis is 1 in 40

  • Silicosis is under-reported.

Normal chest x ray

Normal chest X-Ray



Lung cancer

Lung cancer

  • There is an association between silicosis and lung cancer

  • Over 500 silica related lung cancer deaths in construction in 2004 – Over 10 a week

  • Silica is the second most important cause of occupational lung cancer after asbestos

Lung cancer1

Lung cancer

Lung cancer2

Lung cancer

Second commonest cancer in men after prostate

Symptoms: cough (phlegm and blood), pain on breathing or coughing, shortness of breath, weight loss

Only 7% men survive 5 years after diagnosis

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease copd

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

  • Persistent obstruction of airflow into lungs

  • Irreversible (unlike asthma)

  • Progressive

  • Main cause is smoking

  • Silica exposure associated with COPD

  • Construction workers 2 to 3 times risk

  • Symptoms: breathlessness, cough with phlegm

Health surveillance

Health Surveillance

  • G404 Health surveillance for RCS

  • Use a health professional

  • Risk based

  • Symptom enquiry (COPD, TB)

  • Lung function test

  • Chest X-Ray

How much is a problem

How Much is a Problem?

COSHH sets WEL for dust:

General Dust

  • 10 mg.m-3 (inhalable)

  • 4 mg.m-3 (respirable)

    Respirable Silica

  • 0.1 mg.m-3 (8-hour TWA)

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