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Silica, the New Asbestos. Are You Being Safe at Work and at Home?

Working in work, health and safety has allowed me to develop a wide range of knowledge and experience around wellbeing and health topics


Silica, the New Asbestos. Are You Being Safe at Work and at Home?

We don’t often look around the world as a species and consider the effect that some innocuous things we do can have on us. Things like DDT and Asbestos just really didn’t strike us at the time as being as massively damaging as they have now been found out to be.

In my opinion, Silica will be the next thing that we will be talking about for the next couple of generations, even if we step up and put a stop to the dangerous processes that we use that are potentially exposing us to its negative, and dangerous side.

Silica (silica) is found in sand, stone, and concrete. We in our daily lives utilize it to produce a wide variety of things that appear everywhere in our life. Even down to our kitchen benches and household surfaces.

It is in so many of our modern-day surfaces and composite materials there is now a greater risk for exposure. Even that last pair of new shoes that you bought likely had a bag of the crushed-up form of this substance in it. That is why it is and will continue to be, without proper awareness being raised, on par with the effects felt by those that have suffered from Asbestosis, people like my father.

My father was exposed to the Asbestos on countless occasions throughout is working life. I vividly remember him telling me that before he would come home from work, he would have to shower to remove all of the dust and particles from his skin, hair and even his nose. So basically, it was all around him mixed into this matter that was floating through the air.

It ultimately took his life in a manner that removed his joy for life and his dignity was eroded to nothing.

The problem with Asbestos was and now with Silica comes from Workers and Do-it-yourself people cutting, drilling, polishing etc. these products with considering the effects that these microscopic particles of silica products that contain silica, dust particles are generated that are small enough to lodge deep in the lungs and cause illness or disease including silicosis.


What is this silica stuff?

Silica is silicon dioxide, a naturally occurring and widely abundant crystalline mineral that forms the major component of most rocks and soils. The most common type of crystalline silica is as most people will known quartz.

What is silica dust and why is it so dangerous to be exposed to it?

Silica dust is produced in workplace and DIY processes such as crushing, cutting, and drilling etc. of natural or man-made products that have been made of silica and silica-based products.

The dust produced from these processes can be made up of very tiny particles that are not visible to the human eye but are able to be inhaled deeply into the lungs.

These particles are so small that they are not visible; these are commonly referred to as respirable particles.

These respirable silica dust particles are small enough to get to the depth of a person's lungs and in doing so cause damage to the delicate tissue that makes up our lungs.

The risk of exposure is at its highest when?

Silica is up there as one of the most abundant on earth, making up about 28 percent of the Earth’s crust.

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Silica is most dangerous to health when dust that is made from working on the material become airborne, this material is sadly easily inhaled by people working on it, especially when proper respiration filtering hasn’t been employed.

Examples of activities that can make silica become airborne and therefore enhance the risk of breathing it in include:

  • The creation and placement of materials made up of silica (think kitchen bench-tops)
  • Paving and resurfacing
  • earth moving and excavation
  • angle grinding, jack hammering and chiselling of concrete and other silica-based substances
  • Construction, bricklaying, concreting, or stone cutting.

So, as you can see there is significant risk for people to be exposed, even just through the simplest of daily tasks.

What can I negative effects expect from exposure to silica dust? What diseases can it cause?

If a employee or even a DIYer is exposed to and breathes silica dust they could develop:

  • chronic bronchitis
  • emphysema
  • Silicosis
  • lung cancer
  • kidney damage

Look after yourself and be safe always!

There are a lot of processes and procedures that have been created to reduce the risk to employees that might be potentially exposed to silica dust. These changes go aways to creating a potentially safe working environment for those at risk. I personally worry about those home handy people that are at home working away at creating lovely homes. These people are potentially exposing themselves to the same risks that employers work to mitigate for their workers.

Things that can be done to help reduce the likelihood of any issues would be to:

  • Use different substances instead of silica-based components where possible.
  • Create a safe space that you use to work on these kinds of products. Take all steps to ensure that it is a safe space and that any dust generation is controlled and accounted for with the appropriate safety measures. This will protect you and others from secondary exposure.
  • minimise dust that is created, with things like using wet cutting techniques and adequate ventilation and filtering of air.
  • use personal protective equipment.

I am absolutely no expert in this area but have done my research as I am passionate about it given my family's history. All advice is my opinion and should be treated as such, it should not replace the advice of trained professionals.

In closing, please everyone be mindful of the risks associated with this substance and stay safe.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2018 Paddy Michelson


Paddy Michelson (author) from Australia on September 22, 2019:

My understanding is that food Silicone is inert and therefore not a problem. Silica, however in the form of benchtops etc. is dangerous for the system because it is so invasive much like asbestos.

I'm no scientist but Silicone is a polymer if I remember my science classes properly, so as long as it is in a stable and good condition it should be fine.

Bev G from Wales, UK on September 22, 2019:

An excellent and informative article. I had no idea that silica is so dangerous.

Question: What about the popularity of silicone in cookware, etc. Are safe with that?

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