One of the health risks from working in the quarry industry is that of exposure to fine dust containing crystalline silica (otherwise known as quartz). Quartz is found in almost all kinds of rock, sands, clays, shale and gravel. Workers exposed to fine dust containing quartz are at risk of developing a chronic and possibly severely disabling lung disease known as "silicosis". It usually takes a number of years of regular daily exposure before there is a risk of developing silicosis. Silicosis is a disease that has only been seen in workers from industries where there is a significant exposure to silica dust, such as in quarries, foundries, the potteries etc. No cases of silicosis have been documented among members of the general public in Great Britain, indicating that environmental exposures to silica dust are not sufficiently high to cause this occupational disease.

In addition to silicosis, there is now evidence that heavy and prolonged workplace exposure to dust containing crystalline silica can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer. The evidence suggests that an increased risk of lung cancer is likely to occur only in those workers who have developed silicosis.

It should also be noted that excessive long term exposures to almost any dust, are likely to lead to respiratory (breathing) problems.

Detailed reviews of the scientific evidence on the health effects of crystalline silica have been published by HSE in the following Hazard Assessment Documents EH75/4 and EH75/5. These documents are available from HSE Books.

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Updated 2024-02-09