Silica dust and silicosis in the stone industry

The effect of silicosis in the stone industry is not an unknown issue.

But to what extent are workers aware of this issue? Are the specific causes of silicosis in the stone industry common knowledge? 

A scientific report from nature.com highlights the difference between engineered stone and natural stone in relation to their silica content, shedding some light on where the cause of silicosis could lie in the stone industry. 

 

Silica dust is causing life-changing problems for stone masons

Silicosis is one of the most dangerous respirable diseases in the workplace, especially when exposure to silica dust is a common occurrence, such as in the stone industry. 

It is estimated that globally, 40 to 50 million workers are exposed to silica dust in the workplace. 

The Natural Stone Institute guide to awareness and prevention of silicosis determines that exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) specifically in the stone industry comes from cutting or grinding materials, most commonly which contain quartz, which is composed of silica. 

Engineered stone vs Natural stone

The purpose of the study from nature.com was to see, in relation to RCS particulates, what the most threatening scenario was for worker’s health, in real-time, when working with different compositions of stone. 

In the study, 12 engineered stones were assessed against three natural stones – white marble, white granites and black granites. By dry-cutting all stones, dust was captured in a closed environment and subjected to various assays to determine both chemical and physical properties. 

The 12 engineered stones’ silica content varied from one another, and the total RCS content made up of quartz and cristobalite ranged from 70.4% to 90.9%. In comparison, the natural stone’s silica content ranged from 3.5% to 30.1%, marking a clear difference. 

As well as this, the dry-cutting of engineered stone generated finer RCS particles with one engineered stone having an average size of as little as 190 nanometres, meaning it could reach deeper in the lungs causing more damage. In contrast, the smallest average particle size of the natural stone was black granite, with an average size of 503 nanometres. 

The results of this study concluded that dust emissions from engineered stones had a much higher concentration of quartz and cristobalite, therefore having a higher silica content and more damaging impact on respiratory health. 

Is there a solution to silicosis within the stone industry?

Ultimately, the report concluded that the higher the silica content of the stone, as well as the smaller size of RCS particles, the more dangerous it is to respirable health. 

The Natural Stone Institute conclude in their guide to silicosis that there is no cure for silicosis; however, “with the proper equipment, training, vigilance and continual monitoring, you and your shop floor can be free of the dangers”.  

Being aware that silica content is higher within engineered stone, compared to natural stone, and by monitoring for this, as well as using correct respirable protective equipment (RPE) when working with engineered stone, it allows for correct precautions to be taken to avoid silicosis.  

We’ve developed the world’s first real-time silica monitor, the Air XS Silica Monitor, and this is one of the tools that will help to prevent silicosis for stone masons and the stone industries, along with other health and safety controls. 

If you would like to learn more about our Air XS Silica Monitor, and specifically how it can help your safety processes to keep your workers safe then complete the get in touch form below to arrange a call with one of our experts today.