Every year, two million American construction workers are at risk of silica exposure, 100,000 of those workers are in high risk jobs, such as rock drilling, stone cutting, tunneling, and abrasive blasting.
Silica is a component of many natural minerals that are commonly used in construction. When these materials are cut, drilled, chipped, or ground, silica is released in the form of respirable particles that can cause serious health issues when inhaled.
Inhaling silica particles causes silicosis, which is an incurable disease that can be fatal. It causes scar tissue to build in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe, and leaving sufferers susceptible to dangerous lung infections. Additionally, silica is known to be a human lung carcinogen, which means it can cause cancer. There are three types of silicosis, which vary from severity and are generally distinguished by the amount of silica to which an individual is exposed, and the duration of time the exposure occurs. You can learn more about the different types of silicosis and its effects on our other post about crystalline silica (link).
There are a number of ways that employers and employees can try to reduce the exposure to silica. These preventative methods are important in keeping workers happy and healthy in the workplace.
When working with materials that contain silica, follow these steps to reduce exposure to respirable silica particles:
Use wet sawing or drilling methods to reduce dust production.
Provide disposable coveralls to workers in sites with silica exposure.
Require workers to shower and change into clean, dust-free clothes before leaving the worksite.
Use containment methods or local exhaust ventilation whenever possible to reduce exposure.
Try to use substitute materials that don’t contain silica.
Only allow workers who absolutely must be there to enter into worksites where silica exposure exists. Limit the exposure time to workers in those areas as per OSHA’s Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL).
Provide appropriate respiratory protection to all workers and be sure they’re using them properly in situations where silica exposure cannot be sufficiently reduced.
We hope that these tips helped to shed some light on the ways that workers and employers can protect against silica exposure. Read more about the current legislation regarding silica exposure that OSHA has proposed (link).