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How much exposure to silica causes silicosis?

Silicosis cases are on the rise across Australia as workers and others who were exposed to silica dust are increasingly diagnosed with the lung disease. If you believe you may have developed some of the symptoms of silicosis, it’s important to first speak with your doctor, and then, if the diagnosis is confirmed, look at your legal options. Read on to learn more about this dust disease, including how you can get it, its most common symptoms, and how to pursue compensation for it:

The risk of silica exposure

Silica dust, also known as crystalline silica, is a material found in many natural materials such as stone, clay and gravel, but most often found in quartz.

These are then used in the manufacture of common household items such as bricks, tiles and concrete.

Taken by themselves, these items are harmless but when producing them (and creating dust from the aforementioned raw materials) silica dust can be produced.

If you breathe in respirable crystalline silica over a long enough period of time, you may eventually be diagnosed with a host of illnesses.

What are risk factors for silicosis?

Silicosis only develops with prolonged exposure to silica dust, a material a fraction the size of a grain of sand. As mentioned, a silica particle is only likely to be in the air in certain work-related settings but it’s possible that others may be exposed as well.

What diseases can silica dust cause?

Being exposed to respirable crystalline silica can lead to numerous ailments, including silicosis – which scars the lung tissue and makes them less flexible, increasing respiratory difficulties and doing long-term lung damage.

In addition, you may also develop heart and kidney disease, or even lung cancer, as a result of exposure.

What kind of work practices cause silica exposure?

Exposure to crystalline silica dust is often seen in labourers who work around stone and quartz (especially in settings where these materials are being engineered, reconstituted or used in manufacturing), construction and demolition, mining and quarrying, and sandblasting. Moreover, those who work in settings where glass, pottery or ceramics are manufactured can be exposed to silica dust as well.

What is silicosis caused by?

Again, silicosis is caused by breathing in microscopic silica dust, which can do tremendous damage to the tissue in your lung, leading to inflammation and eventually scarring – known as pulmonary fibrosis. In certain cases, this will make it extremely difficult to breathe, or lead to persistent coughing.

In addition, silicosis can also increase the risk of other issues including bronchitis, tuberculosis and even lung cancer.

How do you diagnose silicosis?

If you notice any of the above symptoms, and believe you have been exposed to silica dust, contact a doctor right away. They can diagnose you with a range of tests including examining your lung function, imaging (such as CT scans or x-rays) or taking tissue samples.

How can silicosis be prevented?

In general, the only way to truly prevent silicosis is for conditions to limit the amount of respirable crystalline silica being released into the air in the first place. Something as simple as wetting stone and dust before it becomes airborne can all but eliminate silica dust exposure before it happens. In addition, you may be able to wear certain personal protective equipment to reduce exposure, or use machinery that limits hands-on interaction with the materials in question.

Warning signs of silicosis

Like many other dust diseases, it may take years or as much as a few decades to even begin detecting the warning signs of silicosis. If you believe or know you have been exposed to these particles, you should tell your doctor right away so you can begin monitoring for these symptoms.

What are the signs and symptoms of silicosis?

The types of symptoms you develop, and their severity, depend on the level of silica exposure you experienced.
Most often, the signs of this disease will start with shortness of breath, fatigue, a dry cough and perhaps chest pain.

In certain cases – such as if you are diagnosed with accelerated silicosis, chronic silicosis or acute silicosis – these may worsen quickly after they are initially detected, and can develop in a matter of months after severe exposure.

If these issues go untreated, they could lead to more serious illnesses including chest infections, emphysema and the aforementioned lung cancer, kidney damage and tuberculosis.

How much silica dust is harmful?

There is no straightforward answer to this question because it all depends on your duration and amount of exposure to silica dust over time, which would often be difficult to detect or calculate.

In Australia, the workplace exposure standard for crystalline silica is 0.05 mg per square metre, and employers have to monitor air quality for silica dust. Ideally, you would not be exposed to any, and there is no amount of exposure considered “safe.”

Pursuing a claim for compensation

First and foremost, to make a claim for compensation as a result of occupational exposure to silica dust, you have to be able to prove you have the disease silicosis. Once you have obtained that diagnosis, you can bring a claim for damages, and perhaps even negligence, against your employer.

Among the expenses for which you can claim damages are the cost of immediate treatments (both physical and psychological), ongoing medical expenses including domestic care, non-economic damages (also known as pain and suffering), and loss of earning and superannuation if you are unable to continue working.

If you have been exposed to silica, regardless of whether you have been diagnosed with silicosis at this point, contact Gerard Malouf & Partners today to speak to our experienced staff about meeting with our personal injury lawyers to understand your options and, potentially, the types of damages you can claim. Your first consultation is free, and we contest on a “no win, no fee” basis.


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