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Silica is a common naturally occurring mineral. This fact sheet provides information about where silica is found, what are the hazards and risk management.
Silica is a common naturally occurring mineral, also known as silicon dioxide. One common type of crystalline silica is quartz. Silica can be found or manufactured in different forms, broadly divided into crystalline and non-crystalline (amorphous). This information focuses on respirable crystalline silica, which is the more hazardous form.
Silica is a major constituent of many types of sand. It is also a component of concrete and some bricks and rocks (eg granite, slate, sandstone). As such, this hazard can be found in industries such as construction, masonry, mining and foundries.
Breathing in fine (respirable) crystalline silica can cause:
Amorphous silica does not have these health hazards.
Crystalline silica particles that have just been fractured or abraded are more hazardous (eg crushing or cutting processes).
Occupational safety and health legislation requires employers, in consultation with workers, to identify hazards, assess risks and implement practical controls to protect workers’ health and safety.
Silica can be identified by considering the types of materials used in the task. More information is available in material safety data sheets where these are available (eg for abrasive blasting agents) and from material suppliers.
The risk of silica exposure from the task is assessed by examining the work processes involving crystalline silica. The assessment must consider the dust exposure that could occur. Having dust levels monitored is the most accurate way to assess the risk, however in some cases (eg where there are visible clouds of dust from high silica materials, such as during dry concrete cutting) the risk may be clear without monitoring. It should be noted that very fine particles may be difficult to see in air, and monitoring is required to assess the risk from such particles. Workers must not be exposed to respirable crystalline silica levels above the national exposure standard of 0.05 mg/m³ over 8 hour TWA.
The occupational safety and health regulations require that exposure to hazardous substances be prevented where practical. If exposure can’t be prevented, the risk must be reduced firstly by controls other than personal protective equipment (PPE). Regulation 5.20 of the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 (the OSH regulations) requires that PPE is only to be used to manage any remaining risk.
Examples of controls for crystalline silica include:
If there is regular exposure to crystalline silica and there may be a health risk (for example, where exposure is frequently at or above 50% of the exposure standard), health surveillance must be provided to workers under regulation 5.23 of the OSH regulations.
Workers must be given information and training on:
The employer should keep records of: