A campaign to highlight the dangers of exposure to silica dust has been launched by Cancer Council Australia to raise awareness for those working in high-risk industries.
Long-term exposure to silica dust has the potential to cause fatal lung disease including silicosis and lung cancer.
Occupations with the greatest risk of exposure include miners, construction workers, farmers and engineers.
Cancer Council Australia chief executive officer Tanya Buchanan said 600,000 Australians are exposed to silica dust in the workplace.
“Silica dust can be 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, meaning workers can breathe it in without even knowing,” she said.
“Over time this causes serious lung damage and can lead to lung cancer, silicosis, chronic pulmonary disease, and kidney disease.
“We want to make sure any Australians working in environments in which they may be exposed to silica dust are aware of both the health risks and the work health and safety processes they need to follow to protect themselves.
“Following these processes can help to reduce the number of Australians developing lung cancer and other serious health problems from exposure to silica dust.”
According to Buchanan, those health and safety processes include substituting products containing high levels of silica for less hazardous materials and ensuring effective personal protective equipment is worn, including a respirator to filter the silica out from air that is breathed in.
People exposed to silica dust in the workplace should also ensure they use water-based cutting methods and have proper ventilation to remove silica that becomes airborne.
“Occupational cancers are preventable. That’s why we’re urging the Australian Government to introduce a national mandatory limit for silica dust exposure in Australia which would restrict exposure to just 0.02 milligrams per cubic metre over an eight-hour period,” Buchanan said.
“Reducing the current allowable limit of 0.05 milligrams per cubic metre will protect the lives of Australian workers and is a step in the right direction towards a cancer-free future.”