Reducing the risk of silicosis from artificial stone
Silicosis is an irreversible, disabling lung disease caused by
inhalation of dust containing respirable crystalline silica.
Artificial (sintered) stone is an increasingly popular material and
usually contains very high levels of crystalline silica. It is
commonly used to fabricate kitchen and bathroom worktops, involving
cutting and polishing of the material in situ.
Processing the stone can create high concentrations of airborne
respirable crystalline silica to which workers could be exposed.
Globally, cases of accelerated silicosis in younger workers due to
this exposure are increasing rapidly, with outbreaks reported from
Israel, Australia, Italy, Spain and the USA.
There remains a concern that the use of artificial stone in the
UK is very likely to present a potential risk to the health of
exposed workers here as well. Research is needed internationally to
better understand the toxicity of the dust generated by different
types of artificial stone, and also whether there are significant
differences between the risks posed by artificial and natural stone
A range of different materials, including resin, sintered and
natural stone products, were cut and polished inside HSE's large
dust tunnel facility. A multidisciplinary HSE team worked on the
project, including measurement and control scientists, analytical
chemists, fibres and minerals experts and medical scientists from
the Centre for Workplace Health. They used a wide range of
techniques to characterise the dust and fume emitted, analysing by
silica content, chemical composition, particle size, particle mass
Our research is helping us understand the properties of the dust
and any organic material released when processing artificial stone.
It will better inform HSE and industry when assessing risk,
determining the choice of appropriate exposure control measures,
such as on-tool exhaust ventilation and respiratory protective
equipment, and deciding on appropriate training and information for
employers and workers.
For more information see our Complete Worker
This case study was featured on page 27 of the HSE Annual Science Review 2020.
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