Encountered first in the mining industry, silicosis (a respiratory disease
caused by inhalation of silica dust, which leads to inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue) is a major safety concern in concrete sawing and drilling.
Silica is the second most common mineral on earth. It is found in concrete, masonry, sandstone, rock, paint, and other abrasives. The cutting, breaking, crushing, drilling, grinding, or abrasive blasting of these materials may produce fine silica dust. It can also be in soil, mortar, plaster, and shingles. Silicosis is due to deposition of fine dust (less than 1 micrometre in diameter) containing crystalline alpha-quartz silica or silicon dioxide.
The induction period between initial silica exposure and development of radiographically detectable nodular silicosis is usually 10 years. Shorter induction periods are associated with heavy exposures, and acute silicosis may develop within 6 months to 2 years following massive silica exposure.
The symptoms of silicosis include:
- Tachypnea (shortness of breath after physical exertion
- Dry or severe cough, often persistent and accompanied by hoarseness of the throat)
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Changes in breathing pattern (rapid breathing or shallow breathing)
- Loss of appetite
- Chest pain
In advanced cases, the following may also occur:
- Cyanosis (
bluish coloration of the skin due to the presence of deoxygenated hemoglobin in blood vessels near the skin surface)
- Cor pulmonale (
a change in structure and function of the right ventricle of the heart)
- Respiratory insufficiency
Patients with silicosis are particularly susceptible to tuberculosis (TB) infection.