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Silica is a natural substance found in rocks, sand, soil and clay and in products such as bricks, concrete, glass and certain plastics.

When these materials are sifted, crushed, ground or pulverized, fine dust – known as respirable crystalline silica (RCS) – can be inhaled into the lungs, causing breathing difficulties and increasing the risk of lung infection. Silicosis usually develops after many years of exposure to RCS, and extremely high exposure can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and an increased risk of lung cancer. Exposure to RCS can also contribute to the development of autoimmune disorders and chronic renal disease and have other adverse health effects.

SGS employees engaged in minerals or agriculture sample preparation are primarily exposed to silica, particularly when crushing, grinding or pulverizing soil and rocks, and when handling bags of material for extended periods of time.

Minerals sample preparation may also involve exposure to lead depending upon the samples being handled. Any activity that creates suspended dust in the air constitutes a potential risk of exposure to particulates.

As part of an extensive global personal protective equipment (PPE) program, our occupational health team is collaborating with relevant lines of business to raise awareness of the health issues associated with exposures to silica and lead. The program covers hazard risk assessments, the identification and implementation of controls, and the provision of enhanced protective equipment in the form of powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs). Additionally, employees exposed to RCS are being monitored for personal exposure and are included in an annual medical monitoring program, which includes medical evaluations, chest x-rays and tuberculosis testing.

How PAPRs Are Enhancing Employee Protection from Lead Exposure in SGS Australia