Dust control, Dust management, Features, Personal protective equipment

Getting ahead of silicosis with Safety Mate

Image: Safety Mate

Safety Mate’s Skytec 3030V respirator is keeping workers in heavy industries protected against the dangers of silica. 

For as long as miners have been digging things out of the earth, they have battled with dust. 

Unfortunately, inhaling certain kinds of dust can lead to pneumoconioses, a group of lung diseases. For coal miners, this has long been called black lung disease. And while diagnoses continue in Australia, its causes and effects have been understood for decades, with relevant regulation evolving in turn.  

A name familiar to most in the resources industry, silicosis is another in the pneumoconiosis family. It is a debilitating lung disease caused by the inhalation of respirable crystalline silica.

This silica is found in stone, concrete, sand, mortar and other staples of the resources industry. 

“[Silica] is the dust that is generated from these materials that has the potential to cause harm when it is breathed in,” Safe Work Australia said in a guide for working with silicosis. 

“Very small particles of silica dust cannot be seen under normal lighting or with the naked eye and stay airborne for long periods of time.

“When airborne, workers can inhale the small silica dust particles deep into their lungs where they can lead to a range of respiratory diseases.”

When inhaled, these particles manifest as fibrotic scarring in the lungs. People with the lung disease report debilitating issues such as shortness of breath, weakness, chest pains, and the need for supplemental oxygen and mobility aids. Silicosis can be fatal, and there is no known treatment to reverse the disease. 

According to the Australian Government’s National Dust Disease Taskforce’s ‘Final report to the minister for health and aged care’, it is estimated up to 600,000 Australian workers are potentially being exposed to silica dust each year across a wide range of industries. But unlike black lung disease, silicosis only recently started becoming more regulated. 

High-quality respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is something that sites can implement today to help prevent silicosis. 

When it comes to safety, personal protective equipment (PPE) supplier Safety Mate believes that only the best is good enough. 

Safety Mate’s answer to the problem of silicosis is the Skytec 3030V disposable P2 respirator, which is ideal for mining industry conditions. 

“Wrong or ill-fitting PPE means that silica dust can harm your workers,” Safe Work Australia said.

“As silica dust particles are very small, workers should use a tight-fitting respirator with an effective face seal.”

Just as important as the tech contained in the filter is the fit of the mask and, according to Safety Mate, the 3030V is the only disposable mask in the Australian market with a full foam face seal, ensuring excellent fit. The product will also be introduced in a smaller size (3030V-S) to ensure every face shape and size is catered for and fully protected.

The pre-formed nose bridge removes the need for regular adjustment of the mask, meaning a snugger fit and fewer opportunities for silica particles to slip in. A four-point head strap adjustment also makes sure the mask stays in place regardless of the job. 

“The 3030V disposable respirators offer an outstanding level of protection demonstrated when conducting face fit testing,” Safety Mate managing director Clint Tee told Safe to Work. “Having a lightweight outer shell also means the mask maintains excellent shape during use, boasting extreme comfort and wearability for prolonged periods of time.”

Safety Mate also offers the Skytec Primus P2 respirator, a comfortable, low-profile, three-panel disposable respirator. 

Primus respirators allow wearers to talk comfortably without compromising face seal and fit. With low breathing resistance and an adjustable nose bridge, the Primus is designed to be wearable for long periods of time. 

safety mate, dust
Dust is inevitable in the resources industry, which is why it’s essential to stay protected. Image: Image: Vera/stock.adobe.com

Safety Mate offers free on-site trials for its respirators, helping workers in the heavy industries stay protected from silicosis. They can also facilitate face fit testing.  

From July 1 2024, Australia will become the first country in the world to ban engineered stone bench tops due to contained silica. And while this is a significant step, there are numerous other sources of silica which still threaten workers in the heavy industries.  

Increased regulation over silica exposure in the workplace is inevitable, but it may take years for these engineered controls to roll in. That’s why it’s critical for site managers to take the initiative with the health and safety of their workforce.

The Skytec product range supports Black Dog Institute, a non-for-profit research institute that aims to create better mental health for all.

“Safety Mate has a number of other products that feature the Black Dog Institute logo, and we make a donation to the research institute for every product sold,” Tee said. 

“This is just another way that Safety Mate is supporting workers both on-site and in their personal lives.” 

This feature also appears in the March-April issue of Safe to Work.

Send this to a friend