It comes in three common types, but silicosis in any form is a fatal disease affecting the lungs. It develops after silica dust inhalation, and the type depends on how much exposure you have had. It is considered an occupational disease because it generally impacts workers from certain industries. As silica dust accumulates, it impairs lung function by causing inflammation and scarring, which eventually results in silicosis.
Three Types of Silicosis
The most common form of silicosis in Australia is chronic, which is slow to progress. This is generally the result of long-term low exposure to silica dust. It takes at least a decade, sometimes longer, to surface. It is common in mining and quarrying because these workers face low silica dust exposure consistently.
In the earliest stages of chronic silicosis, you are unlikely to experience any symptoms. Once the disease progresses, you will likely notice shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and coughing. You may also notice fatigue and weight loss, eventually culminating in chest pain. The key to diagnosing chronic silicosis is chest X-rays as well as a standard physical examination. There is no cure for the disease, but in severe cases, a lung transplant may be necessary.
Quicker to progress is accelerated silicosis. It results from short exposure at more intense levels to silica dust and usually manifests within five years or so of this exposure. It’s common in construction and sandblasting.
You can expect the same symptoms from this form of the disease as you can from chronic silicosis; it’s just that they appear earlier in the disease and accelerate rapidly. The diagnosis pursuit is much the same, but with this type of silicosis, the treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and limiting further exposure.
The more aggressive form of silicosis is acute, and it develops as a result of intense, but short-term exposure. People exposed to extremely high levels of dust develop this form of silicosis as quickly as a few months after exposure, but it can take several years to develop.
The symptoms associated with acute silicosis are the same but much more severe and they develop rapidly. It is also associated with fevers and shortness of breath when resting. If it is not diagnosed and managed appropriately it can result in respiratory failure. The diagnosis process may include lung biopsies, as well as chest X-rays. As it is an aggressive disease, the earlier the diagnosis the better it is for treatment. Treatment includes oxygen therapy and in severe cases, ventilation.
As with any occupational disease, certain industries are at a higher risk of developing silicosis just based on the type of work they do. For example, anyone who works with stone products, brick, mortar, quartz, soil, grout, or a similar product is at risk of silicosis due to silica dust exposure.
While those people are at the highest risk, they aren’t the only ones at risk. You are also at risk if you work in a drilling plant or work in earth moving and excavation. There is also a risk for anyone who works in machine operations for clay and stone, paving and surfacing, tunnelling, construction, stone cutting (brick and concrete), abrasive blasting, mining, quarrying, angle grinding, pottery making, and more.
If you have worked with silica dust in the past, you won’t necessarily develop lung disease. It depends on the length of your exposure and the level as well.
Preventing silicosis hinges on effective workplace safety measures and awareness. Employers must prioritise controls to minimise dust generation, provide personal protective equipment, and train workers about the risks associated with silica dust exposure. Regular health check-ups and medical work for employees in high-risk industries are essential for early detection and intervention.
If you are diagnosed with any form of silicosis, your doctor will offer advice on which treatments are suitable. This may include inhalers, an annual flu injection, and oxygen therapy. If you are a tobacco smoker, you will be strongly encouraged to cut back or quit doing so. This will help relieve symptoms and prevent a quicker escalation of the disease.
How AJB Stevens Can Help
Understanding the three common types of silicosis is paramount for identifying symptoms, accurate diagnoses, and effective management. Each type exhibits distinct patterns of onset, progression, and severity, emphasising the importance of tailored medical approaches. As an occupational lung disease, silicosis demands a broad effort from industries, employers, and employees to minimise exposure and protect respiratory health. Proactive measures, including proper workplace safety protocols and medical monitoring, are essential to mitigate the impact of this devastating and preventable condition.
If you have been affected by Silicosis and believe you are owed silicosis compensation, reach out to AJB Stevens. We can help you fight your case to receive the compensation you deserve.