How Common Is Silicosis?


The incidence of silicosis is less common these days, since introduction of various occupational safety measures, in all industries, including industries handling silica dust. However, silicosis is still the most common occupational disease affecting humans. The incidence is especially seen in many developing countries, because of lax laws and lax implementing of occupational safety measures in industries, dealing with silica. China has reported approximately 24,000 deaths annually from 1991 to 1995. Silicosis is less common in developed nations. For example, in the United States approximately one to two million workers are exposed to silica dust in their occupation and it is estimated that approximately 60,000 of them will develop silicosis in their later life. In the year 1999, CDC has reported only 197 deaths due to silicosis or silicosis as a contributing factor in death.

There was rapid decline in incidences of silicosis and other occupational diseases, after implementation of safety measures and standard in industry by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) in the United States.

Silicosis is still a common occupational health problem in various developing and underdeveloped nations, where occupational safety norms are lax and poorly regulated. The use of preventive measures/equipments are also less common due to lack of awareness and lack of funds and lack of regulatory control.

Who are at risk of silicosis?

Individuals involved in some particular jobs, where they are exposed to crystalline fine dust or particles of silica are at risk of silicosis. The following jobs are at greater risk of silicosis:

  • Sand blasting jobs for glass factories
  • Stone cutting jobs
  • Glass manufacturing
  • Ceramic works
  • Pottery workers
  • Abrasive manufacturing
  • Various mining industries
  • Road and building construction
  • Foundry workers
  • Tombstone workers
  • Quarrying
  • Refractory brick workers

Commonly silicosis takes 10-15 years of exposure for development, although intense and severe exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust can lead to silicosis within a year, which is usually rare.

What is “desert lung disease”?

Desert lung disease is a non-occupational form of silicosis that occurs due to long term exposure to desert sand in desert areas such as Sahara desert, Libyan desert.

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