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How much silica dust causes silicosis?

In 2019, researchers noticed a rise in silicosis symptoms in Australia. There were around 350 cases throughout the year, with over 100 between September and December alone.

Silicosis is a fibrotic disease contracted by inhaling respirable crystalline silica (RCS) dust. If caught early, the disease is completely treatable. However, early detection is often difficult through chest X-rays, spirometry or HRCT as these methods are only effective when the disease is further along and the patient is severely suffering.

We will take a look at how someone may be exposed to RCS, who could be at risk and how to file a compensation claim.

Silica dust exposure explained

Due to the rise of the stone manufacturing industry, there are a variety of professions exposed to RCS. Sand, stone, mortar and concrete all have crystalline silica (silica) in them. Stone containing silica is often used to make kitchen countertops, tiles, some plastics and a lot more common household items. When these materials are shaped, drilled into or disturbed in any way, silica dust escapes into the air. Without the proper safety protection, workers are easily exposed.

Those who work in stone masons, denim blasting, coal mining and dental work are most vulnerable to RCS inhalation. Exposure could also occur during volcanic eruptions and is found within environmental dust.

What is silicosis?

Once silica dust is exposed to the air, someone not wearing protection could inhale the dust. The particles are so small that they easily seep deep into someone’s lungs, cause extreme irritation to the soft tissue, and may develop into an illness called silicosis.

There is no cure for silicosis, but if caught early enough, there are supportive treatments to relieve the symptoms from worsening. Silicosis is a progressive disease that could accelerate if exposure to silica dust is ongoing.

Activities that could expose you to silica dust

Here is a list of work activities, according to Work Safe Australia, that could expose an employee to silica dust:

  • Tunnelling.
  • Brick, concrete, dry stone cutting.
  • Abrasive blasting.
  • Paving and surfacing.
  • Pottery making.
  • Hydraulic fracturing of gas and oil wells.
  • Jack hammering concrete.

What diseases can come from exposure?

After the dust particles are created and become airborne, people may inhale the particles and they could cause serious damage to the lungs. Here are some health concerns that could develop as a result:

  • Emphysema.
  • Lung cancer.
  • Acute silicosis.
  • Accelerated silicosis.
  • Fibrotic nodules and shortness of breath.
  • Kidney damage.
  • Accelerated silicosis.
  • Chronic silicosis.
  • Scleroderma.
  • Tuberculosis.
  • Lung disease.

It may be difficult to spot dust disease, but let’s go over signs that you may need to seek medical attention.

How much silica dust causes silicosis or other dust diseases?

Employers should keep silica dust exposure at an absolute minimum or as low as reasonably possible. However, while occupational safety should be every employer’s top priority, exposure to silica could be difficult to prevent. Work Safe Australia states that “The workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica (silica dust) that must not be exceeded is 0.05 mg/m3 (eight-hour time-weighted average).” Any type of exposure to silica above this rate could result in someone developing silicosis or other dust-related diseases.

Signs of silicosis

Silicosis causes permanent damage to your lungs. It’s a progressive disease that continues to worsen over time and is sometimes fatal if not caught early. An infected person will typically not show any signs of the disease for 10 years after exposure, however, symptoms could arise more quickly if someone were subjected to large amounts of crystalline silica dust.

Health monitoring for lung damage is essential for employers, and workers should take note if they are showing signs of:

  • Chest pain.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Cough.
  • Unexplained fatigue.

If any of these symptoms are persistent, contact your physician right away.

Australian health and safety laws

Employers in silica-prone workplaces have a duty of care to their workers. While some of the laws could vary from state to territory, all employers have an obligation to follow preventative measures to protect employees.

Effective controls include:

  • Control the risks associated with work.
  • Ensure the health and safety of all employees.
  • Establish that workers follow the safety rules and policies set forth by their employer.
  • Verify employees avoid endangering other workers.

To reduce risks of exposure, employers must enforce a risk management plan. Along with providing protective equipment such as masks and earplugs, they must monitor the air for silica dust, conduct health surveillance, and make an effort to eliminate any exposure. Air monitoring must be conducted by a third-party certified occupational hygienist.

For more information about how to reduce your risk of exposure, has a comprehensive guide. However, if you have been exposed to RCS, you should file a worker’s compensation claim immediately.

How to file a workers compensation claim

Silica dust exposure can significantly inhibit your ability to continue working and shorten your life expectancy. If you’ve been working in an industry known for silica dust, you should not only monitor your health, but seek advice from a medical professional as soon as you start to feel any symptoms. After you’ve been diagnosed with silicosis, you are eligible to file a workers compensation claim.

Documentation and evidence are critical to filing a successful claim. You could file a statutory workers compensation claim or a negligence common law claim against your employer. The company is obligated to help cover:

  • Medical expenses related to the disease.
  • Loss of income.
  • Counselling support for you and your family.
  • Financial hardship assistance.
  • Ongoing weekly compensation to cover your earnings if you are unable to work.
  • Return to work assistance.

If you are still employed by the same company where you were exposed to silica, your insurer, lawyer and employer will work together to help you rehabilitate and return to work as soon as possible. If you cannot return to work for an extended period or at all, iCare in New South Wales or WorkCover in all other states will help you financially.

How much compensation can you qualify for?

Compensation is largely dependent on the severity of your diagnosis as outlined by your doctor and your current financial hardship. Compensation could range between $500,000 to $2,000,000, depending on the case.

Speak with a lawyer about your line of work, work history and when you might have been exposed. We will do our due diligence to discover what type of claim to make and how much compensation you may be entitled to.

Why GMP Law is your go-to law firm for silica dust exposure

The no win no fee lawyers at Gerard Malouf & Partners can help you in your claims process. As soon as you get a diagnosis, it’s important to follow up with your doctor for rehabilitation and we will do the rest. For more information or to discuss your silicosis diagnosis case, enquire today.


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Gerard Malouf & Partners have provided friendly, experienced legal advice to communities across Australia for over 35 years. Our Personal Injury Lawyers have taken on ten’s of thousands of cases and we are proud to have won billions of dollars for our clients.
Meet the diverse and dynamic team of compensation lawyers and supporting staff that have made this all happen below. Our multi-lingual team can discuss your claims in Arabic, Assyrian, Turkish, Greek, Italian, French, Serbian, Croatian, Armenian, Mandarin, Hindi, Punjabi or Malayalam.
Meet the diverse and dynamic team of compensation lawyers and supporting staff that have made this all happen below. Our multi-lingual team can discuss your claims in Arabic, Assyrian, Turkish, Greek, Italian, French, Serbian, Croatian, Armenian, Mandarin, Hindi, Punjabi or Malayalam.

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