Silica, Brick and Stone Dust Risks and Safe Extraction

January 15, 2019

There are many industries in the UK where workers may be exposed to brick and stone dust which contain Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS), the particles of which are extremely dangerous and are known to cause a range of health problems.

RCS or silica dust is produced by a wide variety of manufacturing and construction processes through many applications including quarrying, stone masonry and construction. The abundance and nature of the dust as a contaminant means that it should always be extracted to protect workers. It is an extremely fine dust and often not visible in normal lighting conditions.

What is Silica Dust?

Silica is a natural substance and is sometimes referred to as quartz. It is found in varying amounts in many materials that are commonly used in construction industries. It can be found in soil, sand, concrete, masonry, rock, granite, brick, cement, mortar, tiles and clay.

Approximate crystalline silica content of different materials:

Concrete, mortar25–70%
BrickUp to 30%
Granite20–45%, typically 30%


Why is Silica Dust Dangerous?

Inhalation of brick dust or crystalline silica can lead to many serious and sometimes fatal illnesses, particularly if breathed in for prolonged periods or in very high amounts for a short period. Some identified illnesses include silicosis, lung cancer, tuberculosis (in those with silicosis), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In addition to these, silica exposure has been linked to other illnesses including renal disease and other cancers.

Silicosis causes severe breathing problems like COPD and greatly increases the risk of lung infections. Silicosis usually follows exposure to RCS over many years, but extremely high exposures can cause acute silicosis much more quickly. There is no effective treatment for Silicosis.

Work and Tasks that Create Silica Dust

There are many tasks that will create silica dust, we have outlined a few here as examples, they all create very high levels of airborne silica dust:

  • Quarrying
  • Brick and tile manufacture
  • Stone fireplace and kitchen worktop manufacture
  • Slate mining and slate processing
  • Cutting paving blocks kerbs and flags
  • Refractory production and cutting
  • Ceramics, ceramic glaze manufacture
  • Grinding, scabbling or chasing concrete
  • Monumental and architectural masonry manufacture
  • Concrete product manufacture
  • Rock drilling/breaking/crushing/screening
  • Grit and abrasive blasting, particularly on sandstone
  • Soft strip demolition
  • Mixing and handling, shovelling dry material
  • Foundry work – in particular, sand and castings duties


Are you Protecting your Workers for Silica Dust?

As an employer or business owner you should comply with the workplace health and safety requirements in the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH). HSE has also produced simple COSHH essentials guidance sheets on how to control RCS exposure.

As an employer you must:

  • Fully assess the risks to health, with a written risk assessment kept as a record if you have more than 5 employees.
  • Make workers aware of the identified risks from RCS, and how to avoid them.
  • Consider where practical, substituting material with a lower RCS content.
  • Prevent or control exposures to RCS by: following good occupational hygiene practice to achieve adequate control of exposure.
  • Control measures must be effective in keeping exposure below the Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) (0.1 mg/m3 respirable dust, averaged over 8 hours).
  • Provide where necessary personal protective equipment.
  • Maintain and regularly test all equipment used as control measures or any LEV equipment.
  • Train workers to make sure they are doing the job in the right way and using the controls properly.

LEV Systems and Control of Silica Dust

Your premises and the nature of the activities that create airborne silica dust, will determine what controls and equipment you will need. Here at Vent-Tech we are highly experienced with not only standard LEV equipment but we also design bespoke LEV systems that are tailored to the specific needs of any business.

We can design and install fixed ducted systems with extraction arms, through to vacuum solutions for extraction specific to a particular machine or tool. For larger establishments we can design fixed centralised systems, which can facilitate multiple arms, extraction booths and clean up systems for entire plants.

Our knowledge of dust and fume extraction and our rigorous LEV testing and servicing plans will ensure that your business is compliant and your workers stay safe and well.

Can Vent-Tech Help You?

The team at Vent-Tech are always on hand to provide you with expert advice and will find you an efficient solution to removing silica dust taking in full account of HSE recommendations and your individual requirements. Call us on 0117 9647945 or use our contact form for more information.