What Is Silica And Silicosis?

Adults breathe approximately 12-20 times a minute when resting, and it’s estimated that we take between 17000 and 30000 breaths a day. For trades who work in environments where RCS (respirable crystalline silica) dust is present, every breath has the potential damage your lungs for the long-term by silicosis.

What is crystalline silica?

Crystalline silica is in many materials such as: sand, granite, soil. Quartz, which is a well known mineral, is the most common form of crystalline silica – with tridymite and cristobalite being the less common. However, all three forms still pose the same dangers when drilled, grinded, chipped, or cut, as respirable sized particles will be formed. These particles can cause severe health issues over the long-term, including cancer and silicosis.

What is silicosis?

Silicosis is a lung disease which has no cure and often leads to death. When RCS dust particles enter the lungs, it forms scar tissue which reduces the lungs’ ability to function efficiently. Silicosis can occur within a few months of exposure with symptoms ranging from weakness, weight loss, and severe shortness of breath.

Silica dust cloud

Deadly dust for centuries

The dangers of breathing in harmful dust is not a newly discovered concept; as far back as the 16th century records of lung issues from mine workers were recorded. Later on in the early 1700s, Dr. Bernardino Ramazzini discovered during postmortems of stone cutters who presented asthmatic symptoms, that their lung tissue had deep seated “sand-like” substances inside.

Fast forward to today, and not much has changed. Unfortunately, deaths caused from lung cancer associated with RCS is in the hundreds every year in the UK. These are all preventable deaths as the knowledge surrounding silica dust is well documented – which means something needs to be done to make this information more widespread and known.

Conducting silica awareness training and wearing appropriate RPE is the most effective way of reducing these very preventable deaths.

Dust masks rated for silica

It’s important that if you plan on doing works which could create RCS dust, that you wear the appropriate RPE.

Respirators approved for silica dust:

  • Disposable respirators to standards EN149 (type FFP3) or EN1827 (type FMP3)
  • Half masks (to standard EN140) with a P3 filter
  • Semi-disposable respirators (to EN405) with P3 filter

Workers who wear RPE should have a respirator face fit test, to ensure that the correct size is used and that it is creating a sufficient seal. If you’d like to book a RPE face fit test, please feel free to contact us.