Accelerated silicosis is a type of lung disease which may develop after a worker has been exposed to large amounts of silica dust.
Crystalline silica is a natural substance found in concrete, bricks, rocks, sand, clay and stone. It’s also in artificial or engineered stone used to make benchtops for kitchens, bathrooms and laundries.
Respirable crystalline silica (RCS) dust is created when materials containing crystalline silica are cut or otherwise disturbed. These particles are extremely small and can be breathed in, potentially damaging the lungs.
The Ministry of Health is working with WorkSafe and ACC to identify and assess workers in New Zealand who may be at risk of accelerated silicosis.
Information for workers
Accelerated silicosis is a serious disease which may affect people who work with engineered stone.
It can take up to 10 years to show symptoms after exposure to crystalline silica dust, and can be difficult for health professionals to spot.
If you have worked with engineered stone for more than six months in the last 10 years, you should visit your GP to be assessed for exposure to silica dust.
On your initial visit to your GP, they will assess you and ask some questions about your work and health. It’s important to tell them how long you’ve worked with engineered stone over the last 10 years.
If your current or previous workplaces have monitored your health in the past, it’s important to get these records and take them with you to your GP if you think you may be affected. Your employer is required to give you a copy of your health information if requested.
If your GP decides you may be at risk of developing accelerated silicosis, they will give you information and advice about the next steps.
The next steps are likely to include assessment by ACC to determine what financial assistance is available for any tests or support.
If you are eligible to receive public health care in New Zealand, but your exposure has occurred overseas and/or you might not be covered by ACC, your GP will consider a referral to a respiratory physician for further assessment.
For more information about the assessment process, download:
There are serious health and safety concerns from exposure to respirable crystalline silica or RCS dust and this comes from kitchen or bathroom benchtops.
These kitchen and bathroom bench tops are made of engineered stone and they've become increasingly popular in New Zealand.
Our concern is about accelerated silicosis, which is the health issue that can be acquired from inhaling the RCS dust.
This particular health issue is different for us in New Zealand, it has a shorter latency period so this means that exposure can be as little as 1 to 10 years working with this dust.
RCS dust is created when materials are cut, grinded, sanded, polished, or otherwise disturbed. The dust particles are extremely small and not usually visible to the naked eye.
Silica content in engineered stone is 90% silica, which is much higher than naturally occurring stone. There are over a hundred confirmed cases of silicosis in Queensland Australia and this number continues to grow. The vast majority of these cases have occurred in workers where there are no symptoms of disease. The aggressiveness of accelerated silicosis is usually attributed to the high concentration of silica, and this is one of the reasons
why there is a shorter exposure time before workers become ill.
The most effective way to manage exposure to this dust in the workplace is to eliminate it. We would encourage the appropriate controls to be used - this might include wet cutting or extraction mechanisms.
If you can't remove the risk it may be that you need to look at ways that you could substitute it and manage the risk in other ways. All businesses must provide their workers with information and training on managing the risks. We would encourage all businesses to discuss and share ideas with their workers so that the best solutions are reached.
This may include use of personal protective equipment or PPE, the type of breathing protection chosen will vary according to the job and the concentration of the RCS dust. It will also be really important to ensure that all breathing protection is properly fit-tested.
If you need help managing the risks of respirable crystalline silica in your workplace then please go online and look at the HASANZ - that's the Health and Safety Association of New Zealand - register where you'll be able to find competent and appropriately trained personnel to help.
We've got lots of information on our WorkSafe website, where you can find a detailed safety alert which contains information on health monitoring, exposure monitoring, and guidance - and this is available in multiple languages.
All you need to do is go to our WorkSafe homepage and search for "silica".
Our inspectors have been assessing the various workplaces that are using respirable crystalline silica, wanting to ensure that workers and businesses are well aware of the risks and have the right control and protection mechanisms in place.
We're working with medical and Health and Safety professionals from across New Zealand to ensure a coordinated response for workers who are at high risk of exposure to dust from engineered stone.
We encourage anyone with concerns about accelerated silicosis to go to our WorkSafe website and record their details so that we can keep you updated with information as it becomes available.