Silica Dust: What, Why, & How

Silica Dust: What, Why, & How 150 150 White-Spunner Construction

On January 24th, 2018 our Safety Manager, Ross Moyer, led a ToolBox Talk about the safety hazards regarding Respirable Crystalline Silica at our Hampton Inn & Suites project in Saraland, AL. He discussed the importance of protecting workers from inhaling Respirable Crystalline Silica Dust and the health hazards associated with it.

Respirable Crystalline Silica (RSC) dust is created by cutting, grinding, drilling or any other disturbance of various materials common on construction sites, these include sand, concrete, masonry, rock, granite, and landscaping materials. While Silica dust might seem like a small issue compared to other hazards in the construction industry, the consequences of inhaling respirable crystalline silica dust are real.

Exposure to RCS can cause Silicosis in the exposed workers, scaring the lining of the air sacs with lungs limiting their ability to breathe. Other health hazards associated with exposure to RCS include lung damage, tuberculosis, lung cancer, and kidney disease. On average silicosis claims 600 lives each year and signs of this disease range from shortness of breath, persistent cough, fatigue, loss of appetite and weight loss, chest pain, or serious respiratory failure. It’s important to note that in a few rare cases silicosis has been shown to form in the lungs in as little as a few weeks of exposure to extremely high levels of dust content, more commonly, silicosis occurs after years of breathing in the smallest amount of silica dust. By the time it gets hard to breathe, it’s too late, Silicosis has set in and at this time there is no cure.

Ensuring safety precautions are in place for these exposed workers is crucial. Thankfully there are many steps that can be taken to avoid exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica and keep their lungs healthy. One of the most popular methods is the addition of water at the source of operation that would have created hazardous dust. By using tools with water attachments—or even methods such as water hoses or wet sweeping—to control the dust at the source can be kept to manageable levels during these activities.

Another method is the use of HEPA filtered vacuums to capture the silica dust at the point of operation. Using specialized tool attachments and HEPA vacuum significantly reduces the amount of silica dust becoming airborne. At times the use of protective wear is still a must to ensure worker protection in areas with high exposure to silica dust. But the use of respirators, much like many forms of Personal Protective Equipment, should be the last resort when protecting workers’ from the dangerous dust. The use of Engineering or Administrative Controls like those listed above should always be the first option because it eliminates the hazard to the worker. When relying only on PPE, the hazard is still present to the worker and the PPE must be used 100% correctly to be effective.

Washing of hands with soap under running water

The final means of protection is more of an upkeep of good personal hygiene. Washing your hands and any other exposed areas after working while taking great care to clean clothing exposed to the silica dust is a great way of lowering one’s risk of developing silicosis. This as well as taking care to avoid eating, drinking, and smoking in a dusty work area. Following these tips can ensure a safer workplace and a lower risk of a silicosis case.