Silica dust (respirable crystalline silica)

Last updated: 19 Dec 2023

This article explains the risks associated with silica dust, also referred to as respirable crystalline silica. We provide details of our RCS register.

What is Silica?

Silica is a naturally occurring substance found in most rocks, sand and clay. It is therefore present in products such as bricks, mortar and concrete. When these materials are cut, drilled or sanded down, they create dust, some of which is fine enough to reach deep inside the lung. This is called respirable crystalline silica (RCS).

Significant exposure to RCS can cause silicosis – a debilitating hardening or scarring of lung tissue – lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The HSE estimates that around 600 people in Britain die each year from lung cancer caused by exposure to RCS at work.

Around half a million people in the UK are exposed to silica dust in the course of their work. People working in quarrying, slate works, foundries, potteries, stonemasonry, construction, and industries using silica flour to manufacture goods are most likely to encounter RCS.

For more information on how your employer should manage the risks associated with RCS, see our pages on hazardous substances.


If you’ve been exposed to RCS

Prospect members who have been exposed to respirable crystalline silica at work should add their name to our register.

We’ll keep the information on file and use it if we need to initiate a legal claim on your behalf in the future, or if one of your colleagues needs a witness to their own exposure to RCS. We will only use your data in any legal claim with your express consent.

To add your details to the register you can either:

Repeated exposure to RCS significantly increases the risk to individuals, so once you’re on the register, please keep us updated about any further exposure to RCS.