Individuals who work in the construction, oil, gas, manufacturing and agriculture industries have no choice but to contend with the possibility of crystalline silica exposure. This is an unfortunate danger of many jobs that exist within these fields. Especially for those who work on worksites and perform such duties as cutting, breaking, crushing, drilling, grinding and blasting concrete, the risk of exposure is especially high.

What diseases are caused by crystalline silica exposure?

Dust that is released due to the abovementioned actions can create serious harm when it is inhaled. Among the diseases that can occur is lung cancer and silicosis. Of course, the more a worker breathes in the dust, the more susceptible he/she is to have crystalline silica infect his/her lungs. Lung cancer, we imagine, needs no introduction. Needless to say, it’s a disease of the lungs that often proves deadly.

Silicosis is also an incurable lung disease. As explained by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, it results from the body’s response to the presence of the silica dust in the lungs. “Silica dust particles are small in size and can reach deep into the lungs (to the alveoli),” they explain on their website, “The dust particles which land on these surfaces are removed by white blood cells known as macrophages.”

Particles of free crystalline silica cause the macrophages to break open and form scar-like patches on the surface of the alveolus, informs the CCOHS. When there are numerous scars, it diminishes the elasticity of the alveolar surface. This results in shortness of breath due to a reduction in the transfer of gases.

What can workers do to reduce the risk of crystalline silica exposure?

The first step would be to eliminate the source of exposure. Is there a safer process or material that can be substituted for the hazardous material? For sand-blasting operations, for example, garnet can serve as an adequate alternative to silica. Garnet is a material commonly used as gemstones and abrasives.

Is there a safer process that produces less dust? Naturally, minimizing the spreading of dust in the air will lower the risk of inhaling something dangerous. Opting for splitting instead of sawing concrete is one example of a lower-dust emitting alternative. What about ventilation? Modifying work areas to ensure that there is ample ventilation and/or using exhausts can help to diminish the concentrations of crystalline silica in the air.

Does wearing protective equipment provide enough safety?

It’s actually considered the least effective of all safety measures. This doesn’t mean that protective gear isn’t necessary on construction sites. It always is. When working with materials known for containing crystalline silica, workers should be equipped with respirators, eye wear and other protective clothing. All of it, by the way, should be tested before use.

Enviro-Works is the only lab in western Canada to offer in-house Respirable Silica Testing and one of the only labs in North America to offer the low detection limits we provide for our clients. For more information about this service, please don’t hesitate to call us at 780-457-4652 or email us at