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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

Silica Dust:

You Are More At Risk Than You May Think

Gaynor Guthrie

Medical Inspector

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.
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 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)