Real-Time silica detection

What is this research about?

Silica refers to silicon dioxide (SiO2), a naturally occurring mineral that forms the major component of most rocks and soils. Silica exists in many different forms but is generally considered as being either crystalline (also called free silica, CS) or non-crystalline (amorphous). Quartz is the most common form of CS and is the second most common mineral on earth.

Respirable crystalline silica (RCS) consists of CS dust particles which are small enough to penetrate deep into the lung, and is known to cause severe damage to health.

RCS can be released into the air during tasks such as cutting, grinding, blasting, or jackhammering. Materials such as sand, concrete, rock and manufactured stone can contain high levels of RCS. Workers inhaling RCS are at risk of developing serious, sometimes fatal illnesses such as silicosis and lung cancer. It has also been linked to other illnesses including kidney disease, autoimmune disorders, and an increased risk of tuberculosis.

The NSW Work Health and Safety Roadmap has a target of a 50 per cent reduction in serious injuries and illnesses by 2022, including reducing exposures to priority hazardous chemicals and materials by 30%. Through the implementation of the Hazardous chemicals and materials exposures baseline reduction strategy, the level and impact of workplace exposures will be identified and reduced.

The Centre intends to engage a research partner to help develop a RCS sensor that provides real time feedback to workers who are at risk of exposure.

Specifically, the research will identify existing technology or create new technology that can be used in the design and build of a RCS detection device. This device needs to be scalable (i.e. after prototyping, it should be able to miniaturise the device), economical (i.e. the components and build must produce a financially viable device) and reliable (i.e. the device is easily used by workers and continually produces accurate readings of exposure).


August 2020: Project complete

What will the researchers do?

Phase 1: Design and build

The researcher shall:

  • Identify existing technology that could be used in the design of a RCS wearable monitor. If no existing technology exists, the researcher will draw on expertise of their team to create the technology required.
  • Build a working prototype that meets the requirements of the business in RCS detection.
  • Complete study protocol, human research ethics and other relevant applications and approvals. Recruitment of study participants.

Phase 2: Testing

The researcher shall:

  • Use developed monitor prototype to test accuracy of device.
  • This testing will use known samples.
  • The prototype will also be tested in a silica industry setting, focusing on durability and interference (from other particles) issues.
  • Use findings to make changes to the prototype.

Research partners and stakeholders

Tender closed 11 June. Stay tuned for research partner announcement.

Want to know more?

To work with the Centre, or stay up to date with our research, head to our Engage with us page.

Supporting documents

Centre for Work Health and Safety Research Blueprint

Hazardous chemicals and materials exposures baseline reduction strategy