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Silicosis is an incurable lung disease caused by inhaling dust that contains free crystalline silica. Silicosis is the result of the body’s response to the presence of the silica dust in the lung. Silica dust particles are small in size and can reach deep into the lungs (to the alveoli). The dust particles which land on these surfaces are removed by white blood cells known as macrophages. However, particles of free crystalline silica cause the macrophages to break open, which form scar-like patches on the surface of the alveolus. When a large number of these “scars” form, the alveolar surface becomes less elastic. This effect reduces the transfer of gases, which can lead to shortness of breath.
There are three major types of silicosis: acute, chronic, and accelerated.
Development of silicosis is influenced by several factors, which include:
Exposure to crystalline silica may occur in a number of industries and occupations due to its wide and variable use. CAREX estimates that approximately 380,000 Canadians are occupationally exposed to silica; 93% of these workers are male. The largest occupational groups exposed to silica were construction trades labourers, heavy equipment operators, and plasterers and drywallers. However, workers can also be exposed in industries such as mining, agriculture, and various manufacturing industries. Tasks such as abrasive blasting, cutting, sawing, demolishing, drilling, grinding, jackhammering, milling, mixing, polishing, roofing, sanding, and sweeping can also be a risk for workers and to those working around them.
There is no effective treatment for silicosis. As such, the only way to protect workers’ health is the control to exposure to silica-containing dusts.
Workplace exposure to crystalline free silica can be controlled by several ways. Workplaces should try to eliminate or reduce exposure by as many means as possible.
Medical surveillance programs can be used to track the effects of exposure to silica. It can help protect the health of workers by:
Medical surveillance programs can include the following:
Medical surveillance may be required in some jurisdictions. Contact your local jurisdiction for more information.