The danger to stoneworkers comes from activities such as cutting, drilling, grinding, carving and polishing; these produce a fine dust which contains RCS, fine particles which can be easily breathed in and which enter the lungs.
Understanding The Dangers Of Stone Dust
Those who work with stone can experience serious disease and ill-health as a result of breathing in dust. Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) is found in stone dust and causes silicosis, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Crystalline Silica is one of the most abundant minerals on the earth; there are many types of different crystalline silica but the most common is quartz. Sandstone is almost pure silica at between 70-90%, granite is around 15-30% silica.
The image below shows the maximum amount of silica dust someone should be breathing in a day after using the right controls, compared to the size of a UK penny..
The danger to stoneworkers comes from activities such as cutting, drilling, grinding, carving and polishing; these produce a fine dust which contains RCS, fine particles which can be easily breathed in and which enter the lungs. Silicosis is a very slow, progressive and irreversible disease that usually occurs many years after the initial exposure to the dust itself.
Those stoneworkers who experience very high exposures over months or years can develop acute silicosis; this is rapidly progressive and often fatal. Each year since 2003 between 10 and 30 deaths have been recorded with silicosis identified as the underlying cause.
There are three types of silicosis; Chronic Silicosis, Accelerated and Acute Silicosis (as previously mentioned).
This is the most common form of silicosis and usually occurs after a long period of exposure; typically 15 to 20 years of low to moderate dust exposure to RCS as the silica dust causes lungs and the lymph nodes to swell.
The symptoms of Chronic Silicosis may not be evident without a chest x-ray but as the disease progresses, those suffering will experience shortness of breath; later stages may lead to fatigue, extreme shortness of breath, chest pain and ultimately respiratory failure.
After shorter periods of high exposure to silica dust, often 5 to 10 years. Symptoms of Accelerated Silicosis include severe shortness of breath, general weakness and weight loss and takes longer to become apparent than acute silicosis.
After exposure to extremely high concentrations of silica, you can develop Acute Silicosis. This typically develops between months up to 2 years and causes progressive breathlessness, weakness and weight loss which often leads to death.
Silicosis is an already serious condition but can also increase the risk of other serious conditions developing such as:
- Lung Cancer
- Tuberculosis and other Chest Infections
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
- Pulmonary Hypertension
- Kidney Diseases
- Heart Failure
Protection Against The Dangers of Stone Dust
Conditions will vary depending on the workshop that you’re working in and the amount of dust that you are being exposed to depends on a number of factors; these include:
– The type of stone you are working with (both natural and engineered stone)
– The type of tools you are using and whether it’s a powered or hand-held tool and whether there is built-in dust extraction
– How long you have been working with the tool
– How well you are using any extraction systems and ventilation
– How effective your dust mask is
– How the workshop is organised, including the separation of dusty activities and those which are cleaner
It’s important that those working with dust are well protected with correct ventilation as well as comprehensive, quality PPE to protect from stone dust. The HSE ‘Advice For Managers’ is to minimise the amount of RCS being breathed-in by reducing the amount of airborne dust in the working environment.