What is silica?

Silica is the basic component of sand and rock. The best known and most abundant type of crystalline silica is quartz. Some common silica-containing materials include:

Silica is so common that any workplace activity that creates dust can expose workers to airborne silica.

Are you exposed to silica dust?

If you do any of the following activities, you are at risk of breathing silica dust:

What is silicosis?

Silicosis is a disease caused by the prolonged breathing of crystalline silica dust. Fine particles deposited in the lungs cause thickening and scarring of the lung tissue. Crystalline silica exposure has also been linked to lung cancer.

A worker may develop any of the following three types of silicosis, depending on the concentrations of silica dust and the duration of exposure:

Initially, workers with silicosis may have no symptoms. However, as the disease progresses a worker may experience:

These symptoms can worsen over time and lead to death.

What can employers do to protect workers from silica dust?

How can workers protect themselves?

If you are a worker exposed to silica dust, you can do the following:

What is WorkSafeBC doing to help protect workers from silica exposure?

WorkSafeBC has an occupational exposure limit of 0.025 milligrams per cubic metre (mg/m3), which is the maximum amount of crystalline silica to which workers may be exposed during an eight-hour work shift. Crystalline silica is also classified as a human carcinogen, and exposures must be kept as low as reasonably achievable.

Exposure control plans are also required by the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation. An effective plan provides a detailed approach to protecting workers from harmful exposure to crystalline silica dust, including health hazard information, engineering controls, safe work procedures, worker training, and record keeping.

Employers can use the sample exposure control plans (see the link below) as templates to develop their own plans, and add specific details regarding safe work practices for their operations. It is important to follow all the points outlined in the sample plans, or use equally effective measures.

More information and resources

For more information on the dangers of silica and how to prevent exposure, visit http://www2.worksafebc.com/Portals/Construction/HazardousMaterials.asp?ReportID=34096

Download toolbox meeting guides from http://www2.worksafebc.com/Portals/Construction/ToolboxMeetingGuides-Topic.asp?ReportID=34825

Download sample exposure control plans from http://www.worksafebc.com/publications/health_and_safety/by_topic/occupational_hygiene/default.asp#silica

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More Information:

WorkSafeBC has a wide range of health and safety information. For assistance and information on workplace health and safety, call toll-free within BC 1-888-621-SAFE (7233) or visit our web site at WorkSafeBC.com.

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