The workplace exposure standards for silica dust in Australia are a set legislative permissible limits of exposure to silica dust by state or territories and are backed by the national government in Australia. The workplace exposure standards (WES) are a protective measure towards occupational safety and employee health over a working lifetime. The beginning of our discussion into WES should not be implicit about exposure limits. As we interrogate further, as GRT we stand by “Ending dust in mining” in mandate and in action through our innovative products which eliminate silica dust at its source. There is no safe exposure limit we reiterate but as it stands the conversation tackles WES for silica dust in Australia. On July 1, 2020, most states adopted Safe Work Australia’s recommendation to halve the WES for respirable crystalline silica from an eight-hour time-weighted average airborne concentration of 0.1 milligrams per cubic meter to 0.05 milligrams per cubic meter. Western Australia was the last of the states and territories to move to this standard on 27 October 2020 except for Tasmania, which has currently remained observing the prior standards set in 2018. The respirable crystalline silica dust exposure limits for New South Wales (0.05 milligrams per cubic meter), Queensland (0.05 milligrams per cubic meter) and Western Australia (0.05 milligrams per cubic meter). Silicosis develops from occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust, and it is a lethal occupational lung disease. Given the resurgence of silicosis in Australia, we embark on a journey to understand whether WES are enough. The article will discuss industries of concern, whether WES are enough and wrap up with solutions of dealing with silica dust at its source. 

What are the industries of concern when it comes to silica dust?

The industries of concern when it comes to occupational exposure to silica dust include mining, quarrying, tunneling, sandblasting, glass manufacturing, stone masons, abrasives manufacturing, road and building construction. There are three types of silicosis namely chronic, accelerated and acute. Chronic silicosis, which results from long-term exposure usually more than 20 years to low amounts of silica dust. The silica dust causes swelling in the lungs and chest lymph nodes. This disease may cause people to have trouble breathing. This is the most common form of silicosis. Accelerated silicosis, occurs after exposure to larger amounts of silica over a shorter period of about 5 to 15 years. Swelling in the lungs and symptoms occur faster than in simple silicosis. Acute silicosis, which results from short-term exposure to very large amounts of silica. The lungs become very inflamed and can fill with fluid, causing severe shortness of breath and a low blood oxygen level. The risk of occupational exposure to silica dust is very high for people who work in the industries of concern. Intense exposure to silica can cause disease within a year, but it usually takes a least 10 to 15 years of exposure before symptoms occurs. Crystalline silica exposure can cause renal (kidney disease) and over exposure results in lung cancer, pneumoconiosis, autoimmune disorders and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 

Are workplace exposure standards enough?

Workplace exposure standards are NOT enough given that any form of exposure to silica dust leads to silicosis it is just a matter of how much and how long one has been exposed. Silica, is a chemical compound found in abundance in nature, is comprised of quartz, a constituent of rock, and makes up 90-95% of sand. Respirable crystalline silica standards are meant to restrict practices that expose workers to silica where feasible alternatives are available. The training of workers should be mandatory to equip them with enough knowledge on work operations that result in silica exposure and ways to limit the exposure. Is the word limit has become norm in our discussion, it surely is a stuck contrast to eliminate by limiting there is a certain amount of silica dust permissible which is contrary to “Ending dust in mining”. The materials that contain crystalline silica are not hazardous unless they are disturbed, generating small-sized particles that can get in your lungs. Blasting, cutting, chipping, drilling and grinding materials are inevitable processes in obtaining the economic value off silica dust generating activities. It only takes a very small amount of the very fine respirable silica dust particles to be hazardous therefore workplace exposure standards are NOT enough. Can lungs heal from silica dust exposure? Effectively, NO. You can recover some by eliminating any further exposure because the lung will try and flush some out before it settles in. However, that is extremely rare and the damage, once done, is pretty much irreversible. 

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What can be done to deal with silica dust at its source? 

Prevention is better than cure but, in this case, there is no cure for silicosis, hence we are critiquing workplace exposure standards in the first place. To understand the importance of dealing with silica dust at its source let us recap and bring perspective to the grave problem of silicosis. Breathing silica dust can cause silicosis, a lung disease that can lead to serious breathing difficulties and death, and lung cancer. Silicosis increases the risk of tuberculosis. Silica dust has also been linked to other diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney and autoimmune disease. Prolonged or repeated breathing of silica dust may cause permanent lung damage and other diseases even if it does not cause immediately noticeable injury or illness. Over the years GRT has committed to preventing dust-related lung diseases. As it advocates for ending dust in mining, GRT showcases some of its effective and applicable solutions for silica dust at its source. Quarry mine roads generate a significant amount of dust. GRT Haul-Loc consisting of a formulated liquid polymer is added to the watering trucks. It binds fugitive dust particles preventing them from being airborne dust. Given the chemistries of mineral aggregates, it is key to use a product that exhibits both hydrophobic and hydrophilic properties. GRT Activate super activates hydrophilic water. This enables it to interact with hydrophobic surfaces of mineral aggregates. There is a lowering in repulsion of fine dust particles relative to water use alone. Workplace health and safety in Australia’s silica dust-generating industries can be achieved through robust legislative approaches fundamentally driven by achievable targets to end dust at its source. 

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