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New research now shows Christchurch construction workers exposed to high levels of silica dust
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New research now shows Christchurch construction workers exposed to high levels of silica dust

17 July 2015

Silica dust has been known for centuries as a cause of the lung disease, silicosis. A report detailing silica dust exposure to those involved in construction was released to the construction industry in Christchurch today.

Commissioned by WorkSafe New Zealand because of concerns raised during the post-earthquake rebuild of Christchurch, the main findings of the study show a lack of knowledge of the risk of silica dust, a lack of efficient dust suppression methods, a large number of construction workers not using respiratory protection, and sampling results of silica exposure in particular tasks exceeded national and international workplace exposure standards.

“Silicosis  is a form of occupational lung disease caused by inhalation of respirable crystalline silica dust, and is marked by inflammation and scarring of the lungs,” says WorkSafe’s Donna Burt, Project Manager (Occupational Health), Canterbury Rebuild Programme.

“Preliminary data suggests that a review of current control measures being used by construction industry needs reviewing to ensure that workers are protected from adverse respiratory effects,” Ms Burt says.

“The study showed that workers performing selected ‘at risk’ tasks in the construction industry are being exposed to levels of silica dust which exceed national and international standards,” says Professor Bill Glass, Departmental Medical Practitioner, WorkSafe.

The main sources of excessive exposure have been shown to occur when using concrete polishers and grinders. High exposure levels are associated with other tasks including cutting concrete, drilling, crushing and cutting Linea board.

“The results of this study together with extensive data from international studies, suggest that action is required to reduce silica exposure in the New Zealand construction industry. This could include a review of current work practices and working with industry to agree on best practice standards for the management of silica dust,” says Professor Glass.

WorkSafe together with industry is currently reviewing work practises for the management of silica dust exposure. WorkSafe is establishing a clean air assessment programme which will include the management of silica dust.

A copy of the silica report is available:

Exposure to silica dust in the construction industry in the Canterbury rebuild: A pilot study [PDF 356 KB]

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