Crystalline silica: choosing the right respiratory protection device

Crystalline silica: choosing the right respiratory protection device


Warning: possible cancer!

Silica is the most common mineral in the earth’s crust. Quartz, its most abundant crystalline form, is found in various minerals such as granite and sand. Crystalline silica is present in different materials like cement, mortar, brick, concrete and stone. Work involving these materials, like crushing, sawing or stropping, produces airborne dust. Inhaling these fine particles can cause serious and debilitating respiratory tract diseases, such as silicosis and lung cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified it as carcinogenic to humans.

The seven trades the most at risk

A study from Carex Canada, a professional organization known for monitoring carcinogens, is estimating at 349,000 the number of Canadian workers exposed to crystalline silica across all industries. This impressive number ranks at the top of all other exposures:

  • wood dust: 293,000
  • asbestos: 152,000
  • formaldehyde: 42,000

The trades the most affected are underground workers, cement workers, bricklayers, drillers, skilled laborers, operators of fixed or mobile plants as well as heavy equipment operators. The tasks or tools favouring exposure are masonry sawing, bush hammering, breaking masonry using pick hammers and grinding brick/stone joints. (1)

RESPIRATORY PROTECTION is serious business!

Aware of the impact of crystalline silica exposure on human health, technical means to reduce exposure must be applied, even when permissible exposure levels are respected in the workplace. To prevent the exposure of workers, they can work in humid conditions or vacuums with high-efficiency filters can be installed to collect the dust at the source. Currently, the performance of these preventive measures has not been proven. Therefore, a half-mask respirator with dust cartridges or filters is required. (2)

Our experts are here to help you

Think about it. Are your workers at risk? When seeing the state of overpasses, bridges and concrete structures, obviously, crystalline silica exposure is far from being resolved… Contact our experts who can advise you on that topic.

  • Exposition des travailleurs de la construction à la silice cristalline – Bilan et analyse de la littérature, IRSST, R-692, mai 2011 (French article about crystalline silica exposure of construction workers)
  • La silice cristalline : un ennemi sournois. Revue Prévention au travail, printemps 2007, par Julie Mélançon (French article about crystalline silica exposure)