A Guide to Silica Dust

Silica is a substance found in many building materials, such as concrete, tiles, and bricks. It's naturally found in rock, sand, and clay, which can be the components of many of these materials.

These materials cannot be avoided in the construction industry. So, it is key to learn to reduce dust production and exposure.

Respirable crystalline silica (RCS) is too fine to see under ordinary lighting. It is created when working with silica-containing materials like concrete, mortar and sandstone.




The risk of silica to workers

Silica is one of the most significant risks to construction workers, alongside asbestos. However, whereas asbestos awareness and risks are well-known, silica is less so.

Silica is being referred to as "the next asbestos."

Exposure to silica can eventually cause respiratory diseases such as lung cancer, silicosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).

Silicosis is usually caused by exposure to RCS over a prolonged time, but extremely high short-term exposure may lead to acute silicosis. COPD is a leading cause of death in the UK, and the rate of COPD amongst construction workers and other past workplace exposure is exceptionally high.

Statistics show that around 500 UK construction workers die each year from silicosis, and silica is linked to the estimated 4,000 deaths a year from COPD.

One of the most significant health risks from working in the quarry industry is exposure to fine dust containing crystalline silica (known as quartz). This is in most materials, such as rock, sand, clay, and gravel.



Silicosis is a long-term lung disease caused by inhaling large amounts of RCS over time. RCS is very fine, around 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, so the individual may not even realise they are breathing the substance in.

It often develops after around 10-20 years of exposure, but anyone exposed for under ten years can still be at risk. High exposure levels for just a few months can even lead to silicosis.

Silica can cause lung swelling, leading to hardened lung tissue (fibrosis). The symptoms of these effects can take years to develop, maybe even after exposure to silica is over.

These symptoms include shortness of breath, a persistent cough, or tiredness. These can also be the symptoms of many other illnesses, so silicosis may not be discovered until these symptoms become more severe.

Silicosis rarely leads directly to death, but it can lead to further life-threatening conditions. Silicosis can't be cured, but treatment can relieve symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.

It is a disease which has only been seen by workers from industries such as construction, quarrying, and foundries, as opposed to members of the general public in the UK. This suggests it is an occupational disease leading to early death.


How can stone and silica dust be controlled?

In addition to inhaling stone and silica dust, there are other health hazards.

This dust can be abrasive and dry out the skin when it comes into contact, leading to dermatitis and other skin issues. While silica particles are microscopic, a large amount of dust created in a workplace can also cause problems with visibility.

Dust can also irritate the eyes, nose, and throat. Generally, more dust will be created during tasks which:

  • are of longer duration
  • are of greater frequency
  • use power tools as opposed to manual tools
  • are carried out on dry and not wetted stone
  • don't have adequate controls in place

Workers must wear suitable dust protection RPE (Respiratory Protective Equipment) when in an environment with dust. This includes masks and other forms of skin cover. If it is not possible to prevent exposure to the dust, workplaces should:

  • control the dust at the source using water suppression or local exhaust ventilation. At least one of these is vital to most stone-processing tasks.
  • try to change the process, such as opting for a different material with lower silica content or purchasing stone in pre-cut sizes
  • opt for tools which will create less dust, such as manual breakers versus mechanical
  • enclose the areas with dust production (by using screens for example) and segregate workers


Silica Dust Control

Here at Speedy, we work with manufacturers and providers of specialist dust control equipment, such as Dust Control and Husqvarna. This equipment can reduce the health risks of all dust types involved in your line of work, including silica.

Prevention is essential, so your workplace must identify the risks and take the correct measures to reduce dust output.



Speedy Hire, the UK's leading tool hire company, have a range of dust management systems for hire nationwide.

We work with trusted brands such as Husqvarna and Dust Control to ensure the products on our fleet are reliable and work efficiently and effectively when you need them the most.




Speedy has more than 200 local service centres across the nation, hire counters in selected B&Qs and nationwide 4-hour delivery. It has never been easier to hire the tools and equipment you need.

You'll find all the tools you need right here. Why not open a Speedy account today online or visit us in your local depot to start hiring today?


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