It has been well known for many years that during underground coalmine development coal seams weave and as natural features don’t conform with laser like precision. Mining machinery will sometimes therefore cut into rock strata releasing fine powder into the air containing <10-micron dust particles. These particles may contain ‘respirable crystalline silica’ (also known as alpha quartz, and respirable quartz) and as a result mine workers may be at risk of developing a chronic disease of the lungs called ‘Silicosis ‘. Research as shown that long-term chronic exposure at airborne levels in excess of the SWA exposure standard can lead to an increased risk of developing this disease. In medical terms the tiny crystalline particles abrade the lining of the deep lung and cause minuscule wounds which heal and leave scar disease. This scar tissue will, over time, result in the impairment of breathing and put extra stress on the heart and cardiovascular system. In addition, certain opportunistic cancers can be initiated by elevated exposure to respirable crystalline silica.
Continuing the story………………….in recent years the house building boom and increase in DIY themed TV shows has driven a desire to create the clean and minimalist look provided by stone-based kitchen and bathroom bench tops and vanity tops and this has led to a boom in the use of natural stone such as granite and reconstituted stone. Natural stone may contain up to about 60% crystalline silica whereas reconstituted stone can contain > 90% crystalline silica. Machining and cutting stone benchtops releases significant concentrations of respirable dust into the workplace air and this has become a real health concern amongst government agencies and employers and unions around the world and in Australia.
Hazmat Services Occupational Hygienists have, for over 10 years, assisted our Clients in managing crystalline silica issues but in recent months we been getting a large number of requests to perform workplace assessments to provide both confirmation that workplace controls are effective (such as wet cutting), and to provide crystalline silica exposure data for employees who are rightly responding to the concerns aired on TV and in the press.
If you have concerns regarding your factory or workplace please give us a call and we will be happy to visit and work with you in developing a cost-effective monitoring program for your workforce in tandem with hazard training and respirator – fit testing. Contact us today on 02 4961 1887.