The popular Australian TV show doesn’t accurately depict the potential dangers of working with products containing silica, and it falls on the producers of The Block to highlight this issue.
The show is watched by thousands of Australians, and provides techniques and ideas to DIYers on how to renovate and build properties – which has inspired many to take the initiative themselves.
However, it is important that the show also highlights the appropriate safety measures one should undertake when dealing with substances that can pose a serious health risk, especially when that can possibly lead to conditions such as Silicosis.
What is silicosis?
Silicosis is a serious respiratory disease caused by inhalation of silica dust which leads to inflammation and scarring of the lungs. Acute Silicosis is a very severe condition, which can be rapidly progressive, and lead to respiratory failure and death.
As a lawyer who has practiced extensively in the field of dust diseases, in particular asbestos, I’m sadly all too familiar with the devastating impact of dust disease on individuals and their families.’
Unfortunately, more and more tradies are being exposed to dangerous amounts of silica, which is inhaled when power tools cut, grind and drill engineered artificial stone for bathroom and kitchen bench tops. This exposure is not just limited to those in the construction industry.
More education is needed
It is the responsibility of the show’s producers to educate its contestants and the public on the dangers of working with these types of products. This includes the importance of using appropriate wet cutting systems and wearing protective face masks – something which may not be obvious to the average Mum and Dad DIY’er.
Silica is commonly found in bricks, soil, sand and concrete in Australia, but over the past 16 years, silica dust has been found in much higher concentrations in engineered and artificial stone products used to make bench tops.
It’s great that people are learning how to build and renovate, but more needs to be done to educate the public about the dangers of inhaling fine silica dust. The risk is that serious health conditions can develop as a result of this exposure – namely Silicosis.
One of the more alarming properties of silica dust is that it is very fine and not always visible to the naked eye. As a result, many people have been or may be exposed to silica fibres without even knowing.
Unfortunately, there are almost no available medical therapies – aside from a lung transplant – and, even more concerning, that there is still very little data about the number of people who have been potentially exposed to the dust.
What can you do?
If you're undertaking renovations on your property, make sure you engage reputable tradespeople who utilise appropriate safety measures for their employees, protecting them from exposure to silica.
So far, more than 100 people have put their details down on the Slater and Gordon National Silicosis Register – the first in Australia. If you think you have been exposed to silica you can register your exposure or symptoms here.