In recent years, attempts have been made to increase awareness of the dangers of silica dust. The Health & Safety Executive has described it as the biggest risk to construction workers after asbestos, with over 500 workers having died as a result of exposure to the substance in 2005 alone. Despite this, an All Party Parliamentary Group report in March 2020 revealed that around 600,000 people are exposed to this harmful substance every year.

So, what is silica dust, and what should you do if you believe you have been exposed to it at work?

What is silica dust?

Silica dust is a product of silicon dioxide, which is an important raw material found in substances like rock, sand, and clay. Accordingly, it is also present in anything made from these substances such as bricks and concrete. When workers saw, grind, or drill these products it releases a dust into the atmosphere, known as silica dust.

What is silica dust?

What kinds of workers are exposed to silica dust?

As previously mentioned, silicon dioxide is present in substances like rock, sand, and clay. Therefore, anyone who worked with these could have been exposed to silica dust. The Health & Safety Executive lists the following examples of the types of work where exposure is likely: mining, quarrying, stone masonry, slate works, foundries, pottery, brick and tile making, abrasive blasting, tunnelling, and any construction work involving the cutting or breaking of stone, concrete, or brick. In addition to this, many companies use a substance known as “silica flour” in the manufacturing of products such as paint, soap, and glass ceramics.

What are the effects of exposure to silica dust?

What are the effects of exposure to silica dust?

Silica dust is inhaled and embedded into the lungs. It is then attacked by the immune system, causing inflammation, scarring, and hardening of the lungs. This is known as silicosis. Common symptoms of silicosis are coughing, shortness of breath, weakness, and tiredness. Exposure to silica dust can also cause or exacerbate other serious illnesses and diseases such as tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer. It can often take 20 to 30 years after the exposure to silica dust for these conditions and symptoms to develop. Fortunately, claims can be brought against companies even when they are dissolved or have stopped trading.

What should you do if you believe you have been exposed to silica dust?

Employers owe their employees a duty of care, which includes minimising their exposure to silica dust. Whether your employer has breached their duty of care will depend on a variety of factors, including:

  • Your place of work – was it small and cramped? Was it inadequately ventilated?
  • Time and frequency of exposure – how often were you exposed to silica dust in a typical day? How long did this exposure last each time? Were you given regular breaks?
  • Risk assessments – did your employer carry out risk assessments? Was silica dust identified as a hazard? What control measures were put in place?
  • Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) – was it provided? What kind of RPE was it? Did it meet industry standards?
  • Training – were you trained on the potential dangers of exposure to silica dust?

How can we help?

If you believe you have been exposed to silica dust at work, then you may be entitled to compensation. Tilly Bailey & Irvine have dealt extensively with claims where clients have suffered from respiratory illnesses after being exposed to harmful substances at work. To find out more about how we can advise you on a potential claim, please contact our experienced team on 01429 264101.

Call: 01429 264101
How can we help?