Hidden in bricks, tiles and concrete, an almost invisible substance is putting tradespeople and labourers at risk of cancer.
Studies have shown that around 587,000 Australian workers each year are exposed to crystalline silica, a Group 1 Carcinogen 100 times smaller than a grain of sand.
When inhaled, silica can cause some cases of lung cancer, so Cancer Council has released new resources this National Safe Work Month to help employers and workers reduce risk.
Cancer Council Queensland CEO Ms Chris McMillan called for increased awareness of the dangers of silica dust.
“Long term and repeated high-level exposure to silica dust is responsible for around 230 cases of lung cancer in Australia each year, as well as some cases of silicosis, kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” Ms McMillan said.
“These are cancer cases that could have easily been prevented through eliminating or reducing exposure.
“We know that many tradespeople and construction workers often work with materials containing silica dust without proper protection in place, which is a very real concern.”
Ms McMillan warned workers and their employers to take the risk of silica dust seriously.
“Those most at risk from silica dust inhalation are construction workers, miners, farmers and engineers but as silica is a surprisingly common product, anyone who works with materials containing it may be at risk, such as those working in demolition or manufacturing,” she said.
“If you are regularly working with, or employing people who work with, materials that release silica dust into the air when worked on, you are at risk, so you need to get informed today.”
All Australian workplaces must follow health and safety laws, however these vary slightly between states and territories, but the duty of care for employers, and responsibilities of workers across the country is similar.
“Employers are required by law to ensure the health and safety of their workers, but, within reason, individual workers are also responsible for ensuring their own protection,” Ms McMillan said.
“Proper protection is a lot more than just wearing a dust mask, which alone, provides little protection. It includes on-site ventilation, using specialised tools with appropriate blades and water suppression features and a range of other important safeguards, all based on the hierarchy of control.
“Cancer Council Queensland is here to assist all employers and workers to ensure they are protected from silica dust, with resources available on how to manage silica and other cancer risks in the workplace.”
The free silica resources are available via Cancer Council Queensland’s QUEST program at quest.org.au.
The QUEST program promotes simple, easy changes that every organisation can make to help employees make the healthy choice the easy choice and reduce their risk of cancer and chronic disease.
For more information on Cancer Council Queensland’s work in cancer prevention, research or patient support, visit cancerqld.org.au or call 13 11 20.
 Carey RN, Driscoll TR, Peters S, et al. Occup Environ Med 2014;71:55–62
About Safe Work Month
October is National Safe Work Month – a time to commit to building safe and healthy workplaces for all Australians. The theme for 2019 is ‘Be a Safety Champion’, which demonstrates that both employers and workers from any occupation or industry can be a champion for work health and safety. For more information on this Safe Work Australia initiative visit https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/national-safe-work-month/.
For more information, please contact:
Lisa Maynard, Manager, Public Relations and Social Media, Cancer Council Queensland
M. 0488 015 702 or E. firstname.lastname@example.org