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. 







    Tommy Walsh: “Act now to avoid the next asbestos” as silicosis cases rise in the UK

    The UK’s favourite DIY and home improvement expert, Tommy Walsh, is calling for more to be done to protect workers from the dangers of silica dust.

    Tommy believes that the issue of air quality on building sites should be a national concern, and that silica should be viewed the same way as asbestos.

    While he became aware of silica particulates as an issue around five years ago, in relation to the disposal of plasterboard, Tommy says that he has not heard the issue discussed on building sites. This is in spite of the fact that 81% of those regularly exposed to silica are construction workers.

    Silicosis: A national concern

    Tommy shared that the majority of health and safety concerns on smaller building sites are focused around obvious, external risks, such as falling from a ladder, electricity and water. As a result, he believes that more needs to be done to raise awareness of “invisible” risks, such as silicosis, which is the most common chronic occupational lung disease in the world.

    More from Tommy, “over half of the country’s construction is done by small builders and ‘One-man-band’ outfits. Air quality has always been a secondary concern to them, as they don’t know enough about it. Everyone would rather work safe than not safe, but they can’t do that if they don’t have the awareness. Health and safety can often be ignored due to cost-saving, time-saving, or ignorance, but if we can normalise the importance of air quality it will make it harder to ignore.”

    Recent data has shown that silica is the biggest risk to construction workers after asbestos, with cases and exposure rising year on year. There are 12,000 deaths a year in the UK from inhalation of particulates including silica in the workplace, opposed to just 142 recorded due to workplace accidents between 2020/2021.

    The scale of the issue is not matched by the awareness and action needed to prevent it.

    Silicosis, as well as being the world’s most common occupational lung disease, can increase a person’s risk of tuberculosis, kidney disease, arthritis, and lung cancer. The consequences of silicosis have been estimated to cost employers in the UK construction industry over £1 million a year.

    In order to raise awareness and protect construction workers from this preventable disease, Trolex have launched the Air XS Silica Monitor, which can provide real time levels of dangerous particulates in the air.

    Requiring no complicated set-up and only five minutes of maintenance a month, the Air XS Silica Monitor is easy-to-use and provides accurate, real-time RCS monitoring with minimal training, letting workers know if the amount of RCS content in their workspace is increasing as they work and when it has risen to dangerous levels.

    To find out more, get in touch today using the contact form below to speak to one of our experts about the Trolex Air XS Silica Monitor.







      The Centre for Work Health and Safety launch the Air XS Silica Monitor in New South Wales

      The world’s first real-time respirable crystalline silica (RCS) detector, the Air XS Silica Monitor, was launched in Australia for the very first time on 7 April 2022.

      The Centre for Work Health and Safety unveiled the product along with our Australian distributors Active Environmental Solutions (AES) to the Australian public at the Shellbourne Hotel in Sydney, New South Wales (NSW).

      World-first technology

      With guests from an array of industries including construction, tunnelling and mining, it was an event in which over 50 influences turned up to see the world’s first real-time RCS detector.

      As the silicosis problem continues to grow in Australia, particularly in NSW, where 75 cases of silicosis have been recorded since 2020, the Air XS Silica Monitor has the potential to provide a solution to this problem.

      This was an opportunity for major influencers in their respected industries to see just why everyone is so excited about the Air XS Silica Monitor.

      The importance of getting real

      The event started with an ‘acknowledgement of the country’ from the Centre for Work Health and Safety, demonstrating the issue of silicosis in Australia and how important it is to accurately monitor for RCS.

      The Air XS Silica Monitor is a major technological advancement globally in RCS detection, and nowhere more so than in Australia. So much so that a rebate scheme has been put in place by the NSW government in order to urge companies to do more when it comes to safeguarding their employees against killer particulates in the workplace.

      The rebate scheme means that all NSW businesses are eligible for $1000 rebate refund at time of purchase of each Air XS unit, as well as potential small businesses located in NSW.

      With demonstrations now available for all businesses, not only in NSW, but across the whole of Australia, the incentive to ‘get real on silica monitoring’ has never been higher.

      A huge success

      After a full demonstration of the unit from Aleks Todorovic, Managing Director at AES, it was evident just how successful this could be in NSW, as well as a chance for individuals to see just how this device works, up close and personal in real-time.

      Aleks added, ‘After the presentations, we were inundated with enquires and requests for demonstrations, so I have no doubt the Air XS is going to be a huge success’.

      The launch of the Air XS Silica Monitor in NSW coincided with our UK launch at the Health and Safety Event at the NEC in Birmingham, which you can read more about here.

      As well as this, the real-time RCS monitor was also on show at Coverings 2022 Stone and Tile trade event at the Las Vegas Convention Centre in Nevada, USA.

      Book your demonstration now

      To learn more about the world’s first real-time RCS detection book your demonstrations now.

      If you’d like to book a demonstration of the Air XS from Australia, you can do so here.

      For the UK or the rest of the world just get in touch using the contact form below.

       







        The battle against silicosis: This is personal

        By Glyn Pierce-Jones – CEO of Trolex.

        ***

        What might seem like a nine-year journey to develop the Trolex Air XS Silica Monitor actually goes back 150 years. Our new silica detection technology has surprising origins… 

        It starts at a time when miners had next to no protection, especially from silica dust, and to a place that ‘roofed the world.’ Snowdonia’s beautiful, bleak, Blaenau Ffestiniog.

        UNESCO Heritage status

        Recently awarded UNESCO heritage status, it was here that my grandfathers, great grandfathers, uncles, and cousins all worked, mining slate. 

        Arawn and Ieuan. Dai and Dewi. Merfyn and Maldwyn.

        And it’s here that many of them died, often as young as in their 40s, from silicosis.

        No health and safety. No silica detection and prevention. No chance.

        Personal and poignant

        It makes the work we do at Trolex all the more personal and all the more poignant.

        And it’s a major part of the reason we’ve worked so hard to solve the age-old problem of silica detection. 

        So that modern-day miners and quarry workers – in fact, anyone who might come into contact with silica in their working lives – from construction workers to plasterers, factory workers and stonemasons – will never have to suffer the same fate as my forefathers.

        New hope

        And all it took was vision and ingenuity, optimism and grit, and endless trips to the bank manager. And despite being told we’d never do it – we’ve done it.

        New technology that offers new hope to people who previously had no hope of avoiding an unnecessary, painful and premature end to their lives.

        It’s called the Trolex Air XS Silica Monitor

        And it’s astonishing.

        The world’s first silica detection technology saving lives all over the world – made of legends.

        As they used to say in the back bar at the Miners Inn in Blaenau…

        Dyma i chi fechgyn!*

        Drop me a line and I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the Air XS Silica Monitor and the many ways it can benefit your staff and your business.

        *Here’s to you, boys!







          The future of silica monitoring: Not what it used to be?

          Silica is a problem. A serious problem. In particular, RCS (respirable crystalline silica) – the minute particles released when working with concrete, bricks, mortar, ceramics, MDF, plywood, stone, ceramics and other similar materials.

          Invisible to the naked eye and 100-times smaller than sand, RCS is fine enough to reach deep inside the lungs. Once there, it causes long term and often fatal damage though Silicosis, heart failure, arthritis, kidney disease, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and even lung cancer.

          In the UK, the IOSH reports that half a million workers are exposed to RCS. It contributes to 12,000 lung disease deaths a year – mostly among workers employed in construction or the manufacturing of products for construction.

          And RCS isn’t a secret. It’s an acknowledged threat. The HSE (Health & Safety Executive) recognises it as ‘the biggest risk to construction workers after asbestos’ and The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Respiratory Health have released a damning report Silica – the next asbestos’.

          The main challenge in combating its dangers is the inherent nature of silica itself. The fact that it’s so small, and that as minute shards of irregularly shaped quartz, it’s so hard to detect. The small scale of the particles has made RCS monitoring incredibly difficult, time-consuming, and expensive – which makes the scale of the problem even larger.

          Silica Monitoring is a Big Problem

          Typically, exposure monitoring for RCS has involved occupational hygienists setting up fixed location or wearable instrumentation, including a pump connected to a sampling head that collects samples on a filter. These samples are then sent off to a lab for analysis.

          This exposure reporting is then used to determine whether control measures are effective or not and whether an area is safe to work in.

          That’s clearly far from ideal.

          Analysis is retrospective, reporting on working environments long after workers may already have been exposed to potentially lethal amounts of RCS and is inherently inaccurate. Also, because analysis needs to be carried out by H&S professionals, costs can quickly rocket, with analysis often totalling thousands of pounds a month – and that’s just per survey!

          The Future of Silica Monitoring

          All of this makes the prospect of accurate, affordable, real-time RCS monitoring something of a “Holy Grail” when it comes to protecting workers from this deadly dust.

          A Holy Grail that, with strong rumours of a significant breakthrough in silica monitoring soon to hit the market, Trolex look set to revolutionise RCS detection and the health and safety industry. Eventually, protecting countless workers from unnecessary exposure to potentially lethal silica.

          Imagine that. No more clunky, costly, after-the-event analysis and guesswork. Just accurate, affordable, real-time silica monitoring – which will be available in just a few short months.

          Curious?

          As they say…watch this space.

          To make sure you’re kept up-to-date on all the latest RCS detection news and developments, you can register to become an Early Adopter for our Air XS Silica Monitor here.