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Silica is a naturally occurring mineral used in materials such as artificial stone, bricks, tiles and concrete. When these products are worked on by cutting or grinding, silica is released as such a fine dust that you wouldn’t even know if you were breathing it in. Each year 230 Australians develop lung cancer as a result of exposure to silica dust, with the risk of cancer increasing with long term or repeated high-level exposure. Miners, construction workers, farmers and engineers are most at risk, but anyone who is working with products that pose a risk—such as artificial stone—should follow safety precautions. The time to stop cancer is before it starts. You can reduce your risk of serious health issues by following good work health and safety processes.

Silica dust (crystalline silica) is found in some stone, rock, sand, gravel and clay. The most common form is quartz. Silica dust can also be found in the following products:

  • bricks
  • tiles
  • concrete
  • some plastic material

When these materials are worked on, silica is released as a fine dust known as respirable crystalline silica or silica dust.

Silica dust is harmful when inhaled into your lungs. As it is 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, you can be breathing it in without knowing.
Exposure to silica dust can lead to the development of lung cancer, silicosis (an irreversible scarring and stiffening of the lungs), kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It is estimated that 230 people develop lung cancer each year as a result of past exposure to silica dust at work. Not all exposed workers will develop cancer; cancer risk increases with long-term or repeated high-level exposure.

Approximately 587,000 Australian workers were exposed to silica dust in the workplace in 2011. It has been estimated that 5,758 of these will develop a lung cancer over the course of their life as a result of that exposure.

The occupations with the greatest exposure include:

  • miners
  • construction workers
  • farmers
  • engineers.

You may be exposed to silica dust if your work involves:

  • breaking, crushing, grinding or milling material containing silica dust
  •  sand blasting or casting
  • paving, surfacing or cement finishing
  • bricklaying
  • demolition work
  • road construction
  • stonemasonery
  • mineral ore-treating processes
  • manufacture of glass, ceramics, brick, concrete, tile, metals or machinery

Today, all states and territories in Australia have work health and safety laws that explain duty of care for employers and workers’ responsibilities.

All Australian workplaces must follow work health and safety laws. These can vary between states and territories although the duty of care for employers and workers across Australia is similar.

  • Employers are required to ensure the health and safety of their workers and others at their workplace.
  • Employers have a duty to control the risks associated with work.
  • Workers must take reasonable care of their own health and safety, must not negatively affect the health and safety of other people and follow any reasonable instruction and workplace health and safety policies.

To follow work health and safety laws, employers should eliminate or reduce exposure to hazards by following the risk management process. If suitable control measures are not in place, anyone working around silica dust has an increased risk of developing lung cancer. Workers should always be involved in the process.


If you are concerned about your health, or think you may have been exposed to a cancer-causing agent like silica dust, speak to your doctor.

For more information and to download resources around silica dust and cancer click here