If you work or have worked in an industry where you have been exposed to silica dust you may be at a higher risk of developing lung problems in later life from breathing in silica particles.
Silica is a natural substance found in most rocks, sand and clay and in products like bricks and concrete. In the workplace these materials create dust, also known as Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS), when cut or sanded and some of the dust may be fine enough to be breathed in causing harm to the lungs.
Occupational exposure to RCS can occur in the following professions:
- construction and demolition
- slate mining and processing
- ceramic, brick and tile manufacturing
- refractory production
- concrete product manufacture
- grit and abrasive blasting.
According to the HSE, silica is the biggest risk to construction workers after asbestos and hundreds of workers die each year following exposure. Prolonged exposure to RCS can cause lung cancer and other serious respiratory diseases.
Silcosis is a long term lung disease caused by inhaling large amounts of crystalline silica dust, usually over many years. Once inside the lungs, the dust particles are attacked by the immune system which can cause inflammation and gradually lead to areas of hardened and scarred lung tissue.
The main symptoms of silicosis are a persistent cough, shortness of breath, weakness and tiredness, but they may take many years to develop and problems may not be noticed until long after exposure.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) describes a group of lung conditions that cause breathing difficulties, including Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis. It is estimated that around 4000 deaths per year due to COPD resulting from past exposure to silica in the workplace.
Workers who work in high-risk industries should be provided with appropriate protective clothing and equipment from their employer, if not the employee may be able to claim for damages.
If you, or anyone you know, have developed any of these conditions following workplace to silica dust, you can contact a member of our specialist industrial disease team for advice.