The presence of respirable crystalline silica (RCS) at construction sites is raising concerns about its impact on the health of workers. Though governments are targeting the stone masonry industry, and specifically banning dry cutting techniques, new legislations introduced by the Victorian and Queensland governments cover all processes and products that can generate RCS, including plasterboard and plaster-based products.

As a manufacturer of plasterboards and jointing compounds, USG Boral is committed to helping create healthier environments at worksites. Aware of their responsibility to support the health and safety of both their employees as well as contractors, the company reviews their products and services continuously to ensure they contribute to a safer workplace. This includes improvements in the development of water-resistant plasterboard and new jointing compounds.

The crystalline silica content in raw materials can vary considerably across industries. For instance, gypsum and limestone used in the plasterboard industry are sourced locally and are very pure with low levels of crystalline silica content. According to Tim Harrington, USG Boral category manager – compounds, “Plaster based products contain very small amounts of Quartz (crystalline silica) with finished plasterboard and plasterboard jointing compounds typically containing less than 0.1 per cent respirable crystalline silica.”

The permissible exposure limit for RCS specified by Safe Work Australia is 100ug/m³ over an eight-hour workday. Workers face risk not only from the type of material being handled but also the nature of activity being undertaken. High quartz content manufactured stone dry-cut at high speed produces respirable crystalline silica exceeding the workplace exposure standard.

However, the onsite preparation and installation of plasterboard does not exceed the permissible workplace exposure standard, says Harrington.

The construction industry has adopted numerous safety practices in recent years to minimise workers’ exposure to airborne hazards, including vacuum assisted sanding tools and more effective dust masks with higher protection against airborne particulates.

Respirable dust is generated in workplaces when jointed plasterboard walls and ceilings are sanded using hand or mechanical sanders. SHEETROCK Dust Control limits the pluming of sanded compound dust into the air; instead the dust particles fall directly to the wall or floor junction and react better to the vacuum of mechanical sanders, minimising airborne dust.

Tested to the USA’s National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) Method 0600, SHEETROCK Dust Control produces respirable airborne dust at levels lower than the USA’s current Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) that are lower than the current PELs set by Safe Work Australia.

Underlining USG Boral’s commitment to developing products that provide the industry with a safer working environment, Harrington said, “Not only do USG Boral’s wet area plasterboard and SHEETROCK Dust Control provide unrivalled finishes, there are also real-world benefits."

“The workplace of old is no longer the norm. Working in a dusty air space, spending hours cleaning up, covered in dust is not something which has to go with the territory,” he concluded.