How Is Silica Dust Created On A Construction Site?

Knowing how silica dust is created on a construction site is an important factor in keeping workers safe.

Identifying hazards and controlling the risks of exposure to dust containing crystalline silica is a serious part of any major construction project. But how is the dust created? 

Crystalline silica is a common natural mineral found in a range of construction materials.

Crystalline silica is found in: 

  • most rocks, sands, and clays
  • products such as concrete, mortar, brick, blocks, pavers, tiles, natural and composite stone benchtops
  • cement-based materials such as fibre-cement sheeting and autoclaved-aerated concrete.

So how is silica dust created on a construction site?

Dust containing respirable crystalline silica is generated by high-energy processes common on construction sites, including:

  • Cutting
  • Sawing
  • Grinding
  • Drilling
  • Polishing
  • Scabbling
  • Crushing materials containing silica

The amount of crystalline silica in products can vary. Examples include:

  • engineered stone: 80% to 95%
  • ceramic tiles: 5% to 45%
  • autoclaved aerated concrete: 20% to 40%
  • concrete: less than 30%
  • brick: 5% to 15%
  • marble: less than 5%

What is the workplace exposure standard?

The workplace exposure standard (WES) for RCS is 0.05 mg/m3 8 hour Time-Weighted Average.

But it’s not just construction workers exposed to silica dust

According to the Cancer Council, approximately 587,000 Australian workers were exposed to silica dust in the workplace in 2011. It has been estimated that 5758 of these will develop a lung cancer over the course of their life as a result of that exposure.

Besides construction workers, the occupations with the greatest exposure include:

  • miners
  • farmers
  • engineers

Risk to health

Inhaling silica dust can lead to silicosis, an incurable lung disease causing disability and death. Silica dust can also contribute to lung cancer, renal cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

WorkSafe says silicosis usually follows exposure to silica dust over many years, but extremely high exposures across the short-term can cause it to develop rapidly.

At neXtrack, our mission is to work with hygiene, construction & manufacturing firms to create healthier work environments, and ultimately to ensure ‘Every Site is a Healthy Site’.


neXtrack is a new end-to-end digital solution for hazard control and real-time compliance monitoring. The platform helps builders, subcontractors and workers in the construction industry to identify, manage and report on a range of hazards like silica dust, ensuring every site is a healthy site. To find out more about how you can LIVE LARGE with neXtrack, please REGISTER HERE.