Exploring the high risk exposure to crystalline silica: insights from Raghuram Mugli

The effects on employees in isolation during the COVID19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to the lives of Australians in ways you couldn’t imagine. The Australian Bureau of Statistics have estimated that after the first coronavirus outbreak peaked in April, nearly half the workforce was working from home. With more autonomy to manage a healthy work-life-balance effectively, many people have taken the opportunity to get those renovation jobs finally underway.

It appears some keen DIY-ers are tackling everything concrete. From abrasive blasting to hammering, drilling, chipping, sawing, grinding, crushing, loading, hauling of rock, and demolition of masonry or concrete structures. While any type of renovating comes with certain risks, working with concrete has the potential exposure to the lethal Crystalline Silica dust.

So, what is Crystalline Silica dust?

Silica dust is only harmful when it is inhaled deep into the lungs. When silica-containing products are drilled, cut or otherwise disturbed, the fine particles released are so small that they can easily be breathed in and can cause cancer and a chronic, sometimes fatal disease known as silicosis. The silica dust particles are so small you can’t even see them.

Only recently, Safe Work Australia reviewed and updated the Workplace Exposure Standards (WES) for respirable crystalline silica. The current WES for respirable crystalline silica is 0.05 mg/m3 TWA (time weighted average).

Dust generated during construction activities are an integral part of building and renovating operations. Exposure to crystalline silica can occur during common construction and demolition activities considering the nature of materials used. Employees or contractors are highly likely to be exposed to elevated levels of respirable crystalline silica should engineering controls not be in place whilst dry cutting, grinding, crushing, dry sweeping, demolition and excavation activities are taking place.

By law, a ‘person conducting a business or undertaking’ (PCBU’s) must conduct workplace exposure monitoring for crystalline silica when there is uncertainty about whether exposure standard is or may be exceeded or when air monitoring is necessary to determine whether there is a risk of exposure.

Managing the health risks

At Tetra Tech Coffey, our team of specialist occupational hygienists can investigate your workplace for current and potential hazards and dangers and provide practical recommendations for improving the safety of workers and the surrounding community.

The range of health risks affecting workplaces are becoming more wide-ranging and complex than ever before, as are the regulatory and reporting requirements surrounding them. From compliance reporting commitments relating to workplace practices, industrial operations and construction materials to assessing building performance on air quality, thermal comfort, noise or lighting as part of corporate commitments or performance rating schemes, our occupational hygienists can help you manage your risk and improve the performance of your building.

Our experts can advise on any unexpected health risks after pest infestation, water or fire damage as well as issues around sickness or odour attributed to the workplace. Our team of occupational hygienists can help you anticipate, identify, evaluate and manage environmental exposure to chemicals, physical or biological hazards.

For more information contact, Tetra Tech Coffey’s National Client Engagement Manager for Workplace Health & Safety, Phil Archer.

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