Silicosis is an aggressive, incurable, but preventable occupational lung disorder caused by continued, long-term inhalation of crystalline silicon dioxide or silica dust. The dust of the inorganic compound silicon dioxide is found in sand, quartz, flints, and various types of stone. Exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust is most likely to occur in the manufacturing industry with the prevalence of Silicosis highest in industrial workers. Also known as ‘Grinders Disease’, this disease most commonly affects miners, quarry workers and individuals whose work involves the blasting, grinding, sanding and polishing of stone and rock. Identified in stone cutters by Dr Bernardino Ramazzini in the 1700’s, Silicosis is one of the oldest industrial respiratory diseases and remains one of the most common dust-induced lung diseases in the modern world.
Silicosis is a progressive condition characterised by the development of fibrosis or scarring in the lungs which occurs in response to inflammation or irritation caused by, for example, bronchopneumonia. The patient’s lung function continues to deteriorate as the disease progresses despite no longer being exposed to the dust.
Risk Factors, Symptoms & Types of Silicosis.
Individuals working in the manufacturing, stone cutting or masonry industry must understand the risk factors, symptoms and types of Silicosis. Those at risk are advised to obtain professional medical advice at their earliest convenience.
Work activities that involve exposure to crystalline silica dust include:
● Excavation and earth moving.
● Tunnel work.
● Stone processing operations or Masonry.
● Glass manufacturing.
● Mining processes.
● Concrete or stone cutting (dry method).
● Abrasive blasting.
1. Has your work ever involved cutting, grinding, blasting or polishing stone of any kind?
2. How long have you undertaken this type of work?
3. Were there any safety measures in place to protect you from dust?
4. Are you experiencing respiratory difficulties?
● Blasting, crushing, loading, hauling, chipping, or hammering concrete.
● Cutting, grinding, polishing of artificial stone, including engineered, reconstituted, or manufactured stone, and quartz conglomerate.
● Mortar grinding.
● Abrasive blasting with silica sand.
● Dry sweeping or air pressure cleaning of concrete dust.
● Paint and rust removal with power-tools.
● Chest pain.
● Breathing difficulties.
● Leg oedema and cyanosis (blueish discolouration of the skin) with disease progression as seen in Chronic Silicosis.
Types of Silicosis
● Acute Silicosis: Develops within weeks, months or years of heavy exposure to inhaled silica. Symptoms include weight loss, cough, severe breathlessness and fatigue.
● Accelerated Silicosis: Occurs within five to ten years of high exposure to silica dust.
● Chronic Silicosis: Symptoms manifest 10-20 years (but can be up to 40 years) post-exposure.
Silicosis- An Australian Epidemic.
Silicosis is an incurable, fatal disease that, according to WorkCover Queensland, takes many years, often decades, of exposure to silica dust before sufferers develop symptoms. However, Accelerated Silicosis is now recognised as an Australian epidemic, with WorkCover Queensland and the Office of Industrial Relations (OIR) issuing a national safety alert on the significant health risks for workers in the engineered stone benchtop manufacturing industry. The Australian market and the trend for engineered stone in modern kitchens and bathrooms continues to boom and unfortunately, so does the prevalence of Accelerated Silicosis. Engineered stone contains extremely high levels of silica bound by resin, levels that are significantly higher than those found in marble or granite. Workers using high-speed machinery for dry cutting engineered stone are exposed to more than 400 times the Australian eight-hour exposure limit. (“AUSTRALIA’s CURRENT WORKPLACE EPIDEMIC: ACCELERATED SILICOSIS”, 2019).
The current epidemic prompted WorkCover Queensland to provide industrial workers with advanced health screening and immediate access to specialist medical diagnosis and treatment. If you think you are at risk of developing Silicosis you are advised to contact WorkCover Queensland on 1300 362 128 to discuss health screening. A diagnosis of Silicosis often results in pain, disability, medical expenses, loss of earnings, and reduced life expectancy. You are therefore advised to obtain professional legal advice to determine whether you have a claim for silicosis damages.