RCS (Respirable Crystalline Silica) is one of the most common naturally occurring elements on the planet and is a key component of soil, sand, granite & other naturally occurring minerals. According to the HSE, RCS is the 2nd biggest risk to construction workers, following asbestos.

The BOHS (Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection) Breathe Freely initiative reports that 3,500 construction workers will die from cancer caused by past exposure to asbestos, 500 from silica dust and a further 5,500 diagnosed with occupational cancer.

Where are workers most at risk?

Crystalline Silica is found in a number of industries including:

Construction – Quarrying – Stone work – Tunnelling – Glass and Ceramic manufacturing and Foundries. In essence, any abrasive activities that cut, chip, drill or grind can cause silica dust to form.

What are the risks of exposure to RCS?

The risks are significant but many workers do not fully understand the true extent of the health risks of RCS exposure. RCS can cause irreversible diseases such as silicosis, cancer and silicosis. Silicosis in particular is incurable.

There are 3 types:

Chronic – the most common type; usually occurs after 10 years of low level silica dust exposure.

Accelerated – takes 5 – 15 years to develop and is the result of high exposure.

Acute - .individual will have been exposed to very high levels and symptoms will usually be known within a matter of weeks.

Common Symptoms to watch out for.

  • Debilitating shortness of breath
  • Loud cough
  • Feeling of weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Chest pains
  • Night sweats

How can you reduce exposure?

A detailed risk assessment should be carried out by a qualified HSE to identify risks to workers, general public and bystanders; including the identification of materials with the potential to create airborne dust.

Control exposure - Control of RCS at source is the first line of define such as local extraction and dampening.

Use high quality dust extraction (often referred to as Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) and suppression equipment used and fitted correctly.

Ensure employees are informed of procedures and how to work safely in situations where silica dust is likely.

Keep PPE garments clean and remove all clothing worn in the environment before going home.

Use a vacuum or wet sweep when cleaning rather than a dry sweep.

Wear the correct respiratory protection equipment (RPE) for the job in hand.

Recommendations include:

Unifit P3 masks - Code: D01.5030V

Elipse A1 P3 RD Mask with replaceable filters – Code: D08.SPR03

Tornado Blower Unit – Code: D08.TOR.POWER

Disposable half masks are not suitable for providing protection against RCS In all types of RCS generating processes, but may be suitable for some low level environments.

Your PPE provider or manufacturer will be able to advise on suitable solutions.

Further reading:

Video: 7 things to know about Silica Dust.

BOHS, the Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection launched a Breathe Freely initiative in June 2017. Ref:

Coming soon – Safeaid's Guide to Respiratory (the 3rd in the series of pocket size, handy guides to…….)

HSE – ref:

Face Fit testing training – for further information, contact us at: sales@safeaidsupplies.comheck