What is Silica Dust and Where is it Found?
Crystalline silica is an important industrial material found abundantly in the earth’s crust. Quartz, the most common form of silica, is a component of sand, stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, and mortar. Materials containing quartz are found in a wide variety of workplaces. Common industries and operation where crystalline silica is found include: construction, glass products, concrete products, foundries, cut stone products, fire-proofing, abrasive blasting, and many more. Occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica occurs when cutting, sawing, drilling or abrading occurs on materials that contain crystalline silica such as crushing of concrete, sweeping, mixing, or pouring of materials. When controls are not in place during any of these operations, they could release large amounts of crystalline silica, which has very fine particles that can travel deep into your lungs.
Health Effects and Illnesses Caused by Silica Dust
Breathing in these very small (“respirable”) crystalline silica particles, can cause multiple diseases, including silicosis, an incurable lung disease that leads to disability and death. Respirable crystalline silica also causes lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and kidney disease. Exposure to respirable crystalline silica is related to the development of autoimmune disorders and cardiovascular impairment. These occupational diseases are life-altering and debilitating disorders that annually affect thousands of workers across the United States
How do we protect ourselves from Crystalline Silica?
The most recent ruling by OSHA requires employers to protect workers from exposure to Silica with their standard 1926.1153. The standard provides flexible alternatives, which OSHA expects will be especially useful for small employers. Employers can either use the control methods laid out in Table 1 of the construction standard, or they can measure workers’ exposure to silica and independently decide which dust controls work best to limit exposures to the PEL in their workplaces.
Regardless of which exposure control method is used, all construction employers covered by the standard are required to:
• Establish and implement a written exposure control plan that identifies tasks that involve exposure and methods used to protect workers, including procedures to restrict access to work areas where high exposures may occur.
• Restrict housekeeping practices that expose workers to silica where feasible alternatives are available.
• Offer medical exams-including chest X-rays and lung function tests-every three years for workers who are required by the standard to wear a respirator for 30 or more days per year.
• Train workers on work operations that result in silica exposure and ways to limit exposure.
• Keep records of exposure measurements, objective data, and medical exams.
Some Simpler ways to make this happen are:
• Eliminate the source of the dust whether that is through engineering controls or a change in work processes.
• Use collection or vacuum systems to collect dust at the point of operation.
• Use wet methods when cutting or breaking any concrete or similar materials.
• Use water as a means of suppression for the dust on roadways or in work areas.
• Use proper respirators when engineering controls are not enough to protect you.