According to ANSES, nearly 365,000 workers in France were exposed to crystalline silica in 2017, one of the main causes of lung disease among construction workers.
Recognised as a human carcinogen, silica dust is particularly dangerous for workers because it is not always detected when it is released into the air.
What is silica?
Silica is one of the most abundant components in the world, second only to air. It is a mineral (silicon dioxide) found in sand and soil. There are many types of silica and you can find it in water, food, toiletries and other products.
Many building materials, including concrete, ceramic tiles, concrete elements and clay-based blocks, contain silica. Silica is in fact a key component of sand and stones such as sandstone and marble.
Where does silica dust come from?
Silica dust develops when building materials containing silica are reduced, handled or worked on. This dust is a particularly important risk for building and construction workers after asbestos fibres.
Massive and continuous exposure can contribute to the formation of cancerous cells in the bronchial tubes and other serious respiratory problems (silicosis, asthma, etc.). Despite the danger, many construction professionals are not aware of the threats and do not equip themselves withrespiratory protection equipment appropriate. When separating kerbs, paving stones and other concrete, rock or stone elements, they release fragments of silica dust into the air and inhale it.
In addition to construction workers, it is important to note that the hazardous nature of crystalline silica has long been known in mining areas as well as in many other industrial sectors in France. These occupations include (but are not limited to)
- Quarrying (sand)
- Slate and stone work
- The foundry
- The pottery and ceramics industries
- The body painters' sector of activity.
Why is silica dust harmful to health?
Silica dust is only dangerous if it penetrates deep into your bronchial tubes. These include
- Irritation of the cells in the bronchial tubes.
- The development of cancer cells.
- The occurrence of respiratory diseases (bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, etc.).
What is silicosis?
Silicosis is comparable to the bronchial disease caused by asbestos. It damages the cells of the bronchial tubes, leading to respiratory complications. It also puts those affected at increased risk of developing bronchial cancer cells and other diseases. To date, there is no medical treatment for silicosis.
The disease is usually triggered by direct and prolonged exposure to silica dust in the workplace. It can also occur following exposure to large amounts of crystalline silica.
How to protect yourself from silica dust?
The use of a respirator in the workplace is an excellent way of protecting the health of workers from direct exposure to silica dust. This device is necessary when handling materials that may release silica dust.
You can also control exposure to silica dust by using dust suppression techniques or local exhaust ventilation. These are the most suitable devices, as they eliminate the dust and protect everyone in the immediate working environment.
Finally, remember that silica dust can travel with you. Once the dust becomes airborne, it can contaminate your clothes and hair and then contaminate your family back home. For better protection, it is therefore recommended that you wear protective clothing and wash your hands before eating food or smoking a cigarette. These simple steps will help you to protect yourself from crystalline silica dust and limit the risk of developing a chronic respiratory problem.