In countless industries, crystalline silica, a naturally occurring mineral found in soil, sand, and rocks, plays a vital role in manufacturing various products and materials. While it has numerous industrial applications, it poses severe health risks to workers exposed to its airborne particles. Silicosis, a debilitating, and potentially fatal lung disease is a direct consequence of inhalation of silica dust.

Understanding the Dangers of Crystalline Silica
Crystalline silica becomes a hazard when it is reduced to fine dust during activities such as cutting, drilling, grinding, or sandblasting materials containing silica. Once airborne, these tiny respirable particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs, causing serious health issues.

Silicosis: The Silent Threat
Silicosis is an irreversible and progressive lung disease that results from exposure to crystalline silica.
There are three types of silicosis, and each type affects the body differently.


Occurs When


Acute silicosis

After a few weeks or
years of silica exposure

- Cough
- Weight loss              
- Tiredness
- Sharp chest pain          
- Breathlessness

Chronic silicosis

10 to 30 years after silica


- Inflamed lungs
- Fluid build-up
- Breathlessness
- Low blood oxygen

Accelerated silicosis

Within 10 years of
frequent silica exposure

- Swelling in the lungs
- Swelling in the chest lymph nodes
- Difficulty breathing

Source: St Vincent’s Hospital Lung Health

IMMEX’s Managing Director, Dr Stephen Simmons, stresses that “in severe cases, silicosis can lead to respiratory failure and death, making it essential to prioritize prevention”, said Dr Simmons.

Other Health Impacts
Aside from silicosis, crystalline silica exposure has been linked to an increased risk of other lung diseases, such as lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Additionally, prolonged exposure to silica dust may contribute to kidney disease and autoimmune disorders.

Preventing Silicosis: Best Practices
Reducing workers’ exposure to crystalline silica is of paramount importance. Employers and employees alike should follow strict guidelines to protect themselves and their colleagues from this hazardous substance. Dr Simmons says these should include:

1/ Conducting a Risk Assessment
Exposure to crystalline silica dust must remain below the current Occupational Exposure Limit (OEL) of 0.05mg/m3 averaged over an 8-hour workday. To ensure your workplace is compliant, start by identifying tasks and processes that involve silica-containing materials. Evaluate the potential exposure levels and assess the risk to workers.

“Understanding the hazards allows you to implement appropriate control measures”, says Dr Simmons.

2/ Implementing Engineering Controls
Engineering controls are physical changes to the workplace that can minimize silica exposure. These include using water to suppress dust, enclosing operations, and implementing ventilation systems that capture and remove silica particles from the air.

3/ Providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
In addition to engineering controls, PPE is crucial for additional protection. Respiratory protection, such as a full-face PAPR with a P2 class filter, should be provided to workers in high-risk areas.

“However, it is not enough to simply provide adequate PPE. Employers must do their due diligence and ensure that PPE is fit-tested annually to ensure that it functions correctly and is comfortable to wear”, says Dr Simmons.

4/ Health Monitoring
It may take time for signs and symptoms of silicosis to develop and be identified during health monitoring.

Dr Simmons stresses that for this reason, “workers exposed to crystalline silica must have ongoing periodic medical assessments with an occupational medicine professional”.

5/ Training and Educating Workers
As an employer, it is your duty to stay up to date with the obligations relevant to your state, territory, or governing body regarding crystalline silica in the workplace. Ensure that all workers are aware of the dangers of crystalline silica and understand the safety protocols. Train them on the proper use of PPE, engineering controls, and safe work practices to minimize exposure.

By adhering to the recommended guidelines and prioritizing safety in the workplace, we can create a healthier environment for workers, safeguard their well-being, and pave the way for a more sustainable future.

Contact our team today to find out how we can assist with your Health Surveillance program.