What is Accelerated Silicosis?

What is Accelerated Silicosis?

It is an irreversible and progressive lung disease. It causes fibrosis of the lungs from the inhalation of RCS (Respirable Crystalline Silica).

Engineered stone benchtops have become increasingly popular for kitchens and bathrooms. Made from mixing finely crushed rock with polymeric resin, moulded into slabs and heat-cured. Unlike natural stone, which comprises of approx. 5-30% silica, artificial or engineered stone contains more than 90% silica.

Risk of RCS exposure is found with stone workers while cutting, grinding, sanding and polishing stone benchtops during manufacturing and installation. The disease is caused by breathing particles of crystalline silica over a short period of 5-10 years, irreversibly damaging a person’s lungs.

Leading Occupational physician, Dr Alexandra Wuthu advises it’s important not to panic, there is no need to rush to your GP or ED. Dr Wuthu is leading a newly formed taskforce, with Worksafe, ACC and the Ministry of Health. They are formulating a plan, so those affected could be properly diagnosed.

Worksafe advice:

Before starting work using engineered stone, businesses must complete a risk assessment and review their controls. It is important to consider eliminating uncontrolled dry cutting, grinding or polishing of engineered stone.

If this is not possible then exposures must be minimised. Options include:

  • substituting engineered stone for materials with a lower silica content
  • isolating work areas or tasks that generate dust using physical barriers or computer numerical control (CNC) machines
  • using engineering controls, such as local exhaust ventilation (LEV), water suppression (wet cutting), or on-tool dust extraction attachments. Wet sprays should be controlled by guards to prevent dust becoming airborne and wet waste must be managed. LEV system dust collectors or vacuums should be H-class HEPA filtered. Any LEV must be effective, fit for purpose, installed, set up and used correctly and maintained so that it remains effective
  • further minimisation controls include administrative controls, such as good housekeeping practice (wet wiping, using a H-class HEPA-filtered vacuum, and low-pressure water cleaning – dry wiping or sweeping is not appropriate).

If a risk still remains, use the appropriate personal protective equipment:

  • use a suitable respirator with a minimum of P1 filter cartridge with the appropriate assigned protection factor
  • ensure the respirator is fit-tested for the worker, cleaned and maintained properly
  • wear suitable work clothing such as coveralls, that are disposable or can be laundered at the workplace to avoid taking them home.

For further information:  https://worksafe.govt.nz/about-us/news-and-media/accelerated-silicosis/https://worksafe.govt.nz/topic-and-industry/dust-and-fumes/dust/silica-dust-in-the-workplace/ and https://worksafe.govt.nz/topic-and-industry/dust-and-fumes/dust/accelerated-silicosis-form/

Reminder: 2019 Metal Health Awareness Week is the 23 – 29 September

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