• Silica is one of the most abundant minerals found in the earth’s crust and is used in many products across a variety of industries and workplaces. Crystalline silica is most dangerous to health when dust is generated, becomes airborne and is then inhaled by a worker.

Examples of construction work activities that can generate respirable crystalline silica (silica dust):

  • during fabrication and installation of engineered stone countertops 
  • excavation, earth moving and drilling plant operations 
  • paving and surfacing 
  • tunnelling  
  • brick, concrete or stone cutting; especially using dry methods
  • abrasive blasting (blasting agent must not contain greater than 1% of crystalline silica), and
  • angle grinding, jack hammering and chiselling of concrete or masonry. 

What diseases can respirable crystalline silica dust cause?

If a worker is exposed to and breathes in respirable crystalline silica dust they could develop: 

  • acute silicosis - can develop after a short exposure to very high levels of silica dust, within a few weeks or years, and causes severe inflammation and an outpouring of protein into the lung 
  • accelerated silicosis  - can develop after exposures of 3 to 10 years to moderate to high levels of silica dust and causes inflammation, protein in the lung and scarring of the lung (fibrotic nodules) 
  • chronic silicosis - can develop after long term exposure to lower levels of silica dust. It can lead to fibrotic nodules, shortness of breath, and progressive massive fibrosis 
  • chronic bronchitis
  • emphysema 
  • lung cancer 
  • kidney damage, or 
  • scleroderma - a disease of the connective tissue of the body resulting in the formation of scar tissue in the skin, joints and other organs of the body. 

PCBU duties


Worker duties

Workplace exposure standard
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). 

PCBUs must keep worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust as low as reasonably practicable. Air monitoring must be conducted if there is any uncertainty that the exposure standard is being exceeded or to find out if there is a risk to a worker’s health. 

Health monitoring
PCBUs must provide health monitoring for workers if they are carrying out work using, handling, generating or are otherwise exposed to respirable crystalline silica and there is a significant risk to the worker’s health because of exposure.

The minimum health monitoring requirements for crystalline silica include: 

  • Collection of demographic, medical and occupational history 
  • Records of personal exposure 
  • Standardised respiratory questionnaire 
  • Standardised respiratory function tests, for example, FEV1, FVC and FEV1/FVC, and 
  • Chest X-Ray full PA view (baseline and high-risk workers only). 

Your PCBU has a duty to keep you and your workplace safe from risks associated with silica. 

You also have a duty to take reasonable care of your safety and that of others in the workplace.

You have a duty to use or wear any PPE, including RPE, that is provided to you.

Workplace exposure standard

Learn more about the  workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica.

Risk management

Managing risks and worker exposures to respirable crystalline silica can be achieved by selecting and implementing measures using the hierarchy of controls: 

  • substitution such as choosing a benchtop product that does note contain crystalline silica 
  • isolation of the hazard – using principles of safe work design to designate areas for tasks that generate dust and appropriate worker positioning during these tasks, using enclosures and automation to conduct dust generating tasks 
  • engineering controls that minimise the risk of exposure to generated dust, for example, local exhaust ventilation, water suppression (wet cutting) or using tools with dust collection attachments 
  • administrative controls, including good housekeeping policies, shift rotations and modifying cutting sequences 
  • personal protective equipment including appropriate respiratory protective equipment (generally a minimum of a P2 efficiency half face respirator) and work clothing that does not collect dust. 

More than one control will normally be required to adequately protect workers. 

For more information

  • Did you know

    The WHS regulator in your state or territory can provide practical advice, resources and tools to help you be safe when working in construction. They can also let you know which WHS laws apply to you.